Pam Turner, a paralegal at Bishop Title, LLC, was working hard to accommodate the sellers for a transaction in her office. The sellers had a lot going on. They were in the process of selling their home and buying a new one. They worked closely with their real estate agent and settlement agents in an effort to coordinate the two closings.
The sellers were unsure whether or not they would attend the closing. They also wondered what would be the best way to receive their proceeds. They were nervous their bank would put a hold on the funds, which they needed available for the purchase of their new home.
Pam discovered they banked at the same bank where Bishop Title's trust account was located. She confirmed they would not place a hold on their proceeds; even if they deposited a check from Bishop Title's trust account. They decided a check would be fine.
A day later they called Pam and asked her to wire their proceeds. They changed their mind a third time at closing, stating they wanted a check in order to avoid having to pay a wire fee.
The listing agent was unable to attend the closing as she was on vacation, so the sellers came alone and left with their proceeds check in the amount of $279,115.31. At 8:51 a.m. the next morning the seller's real estate agent emailed Pam explaining the seller had torn up their proceeds check and wanted their proceeds wired instead.
Pam picked up the phone to call the real estate agent. The agent answered the phone but was still on vacation and had no idea what Pam was talking about. The real estate agent did not send her an email at all. The fraudster had sent the email from an address that was very similar to the real estate agent's actual email. The suffix of her real email account is .net. The email Pam received that morning came from an address ending with gmx.com.
Thank goodness Pam was paying attention even though the seller's request would not have surprised her at all. They had already changed their mind three different times. This story reminds us all how important it is to pick up the phone and verbally verify any changes to the disbursement instructions received by email. Great job Pam!
ALERT: The fraudsters are trying to steal innocent home buyers' down payment funds too. While wire instructions are sent via email the email is intercepted, modified and sent to the buyer from a spoofed email account that looks like it is from the real estate agent, attorney, loan officer or escrow officer's email — just like the one Pam received. Be sure to notify buyers of this risk and urge them to call and verify the wire instructions before they send in their down payment.