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How an Email Could Cost You in a Mortgage Closing Scam

Experts share how these frauds work and how to protect yourself

Episode 83 - An Email Could Cost You Your Home: Mortgage Closing Scams

AARP

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Every year mortgage closing scams cost homebuyers millions of dollars and, tragically, sometimes even their homes. These scams aren’t new, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a rise in this type of fraud. We hear from Paul, who moved back to his hometown to care for his mother but finds that his life savings and his new home are in jeopardy because of a scam. We speak with experts and victims about how these schemes work, who’s operating them, and what to look out for.  

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AARP

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:00] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:02] We're talking about a big chunk of money which I had been saving for many years, and it's like, I would have never in my wildest dreams or nightmares thought something like this could get past me. That's when your world just falls apart.

[00:00:18] The why behind cybercrime in these networks, it, it's becoming an ideology. This is transcending just monetary gain into the different identity in some of those countries which is why it's probably not going to slow down anytime soon. It adds so much texture to it unfortunately.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:39] Bob: Buying or selling a home is the biggest transaction many people ever engage in. Most of us do it only a handful of times in life. It's confusing. There's a swirl of paperwork, small details, and big money. There's a lot of hurry up and wait, a lot of tension. It's the perfect recipe for a perfect scam. There are nearly 2,000 real estate transactions taking place every hour in America, with almost 500 million dollars changing hands every hour. All that money makes for a very large target. When closing time comes, hundreds of thousands of dollars fly back and forth among the various parties usually via wire transfers and title companies. This method of transfer is usually secure, but if a criminal can trick someone into using the wrong wiring instructions, well, they can make off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in seemingly the blink of an eye. Wire fraud is an elaborate crime, often involving hacked realtor emails, fake companies, multi-hop international money laundering, and it's also become a way of life for people halfway around the globe one of our guests today says. It all adds up to a massive problem. There were 220 million dollars in wire transfer fraud loses in 2019, a 50% increase from the previous year. But behind every crime is a person. A person who might have lost all of their life savings or even lost their home. Let's meet one of them.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:02:13] Paul spent a lot of his adult life caring for his aging mother. He moved away from home to be with her. He's in his last 60s, but he's very sensitive about his privacy, so we've changed his name, and we're not going to say where he lived. We start our chat as Paul tells me what happened when his mom died, and he made plans to move back to his hometown.

[00:02:33] Paul: I was living up there, taking care of my mom. My parents retired and moved up there. I went up there after my father died back in the '90s, I moved there to help take care of her all those years. And she just recently passed away, and, and so that's the real reason I was leaving. I thought, well I'll go back home. I really wasn't wild about living there. So you feel like you did the right thing, and you, you did it as a labor of love, and it's done.

[00:02:54] Bob: So after his mom died, he decided to head back to his childhood home. He'd been planning for this move a long time, saved most of his life for this move home.

[00:03:04] Paul: Yeah, and it wasn't like I was waiting for my mom to go because there was any money in an inheritance. My mother was in a nursing home, and she was under Medicaid. She had no money left to her name; it was all my savings.

[00:03:13] Bob: He found the perfect spot to start his new life.

[00:03:17] Paul: I like the area down here, and that's the part of town I wanted to be in. I had already had the contract on the house, and I flew back to check it and had the inspection done. And it was just before closing, and I was going to be driving down, I contacted my realtor, and I said, "You know, what are the chances of me going ahead and getting a cashier's check for closing now..."

[00:03:38] Bob: Paul was worried about getting that big chunk of money out of the bank on a Friday, being ready for closing, especially with COVID raging. So he sent an email to his realtor asking if he could pull the money out early, get the ball rolling on his closing. Paul got an email back saying, that was a good idea.

[00:03:55] Paul: And so he said, "Yeah," he goes, "You know, it sounds like a good idea." I sent in all of that information to him in an email, and he sent the email back to me and he said, "Look, here's all the information you need. Here is the code you give them," or whatever it was that you tell the bank and all this, that I really didn't even understand much, honestly, you know, but I said, "Okay, I'll do it," 'cause I don't buy houses every other day of the week.

[00:04:18] Bob: So he goes to the bank with those codes to wire the money. All of the money. He's buying the home in cash. There's no loan. It's hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:04:28] Paul: And so um, I went to my bank, and I've been going to that bank many years. And I went up to the uh, people working behind, not the tellers, you know, the other ones in the side offices, 'cause I had to do a, I had to wire a check, wire cash in a check. I went in there to see her, and I said, "Look, I have to wire this money to, to make a closing on a house later this week. Can we get it done?" And she goes, "Sure." And I had all the information on my tablet, and I said, "Well, are you going to call these guys?" And she goes, "Oh yeah, I'll just give them a shout." She called up and the line was busy. I said, "Busy? Who gets busy tones anymore?" You know almost anywhere you call, especially, she was calling the title company that was going to, you know, be collecting this money or whatever it was. So she said, "The line's busy." I said, "Busy? How come it didn't go to a voice mail or give you an option?" She goes, "I don't know, I'll try it again." So she did it again, it was still busy. She goes, "Well, we have all the information here on your tablet, let's just go ahead and do the wire." And it was a nice big chunk of change, actually just about to pay for the house, and we did it all, it was done, it was over.

[00:05:33] Bob: Paul is a detail person, so for due diligence, he sent a note to his realtor to prove his part of the deal was done, or at least he thought it was done.

[00:05:42] Paul: So I live like 10 minutes from the bank. I drove back home, I took a picture of the receipt from the wire, and I sent it to my realtor, and I said, "Hey, look at this." It showed that I had wired the money, you know, to the title company. It was a done deal. He called me. He goes, "What's that?" I go, "That's a receipt." I go, "For all the information you gave me." I said, "I went ahead and got it all done so I'm ready to hit the road. The money has already been wired to the title company." He goes, "What?" And he says, "Where did you get that information?" I said, "Off your email." And I sent him back his email, and he goes, "I never wrote that."

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:06:19] Bob: "I never wrote that." The words just crushed Paul.

[00:06:24] Paul: That's when your world just falls apart. I said, "What do you mean you never wrote that?" He goes, "I never gave you any of that information." And I said, "Are you kidding me? What's that about?" He goes, "I don't know, but I never did." It was like 1:30 in the afternoon, it was like a, I don't know, like a Thursday or something. And I said, "Oh for God's sakes, you've got to be kidding." He goes, "No, no," he goes, "Well let's check this." I go, "Look, I'm not checking on (beep) at this point. I'm going to go back to the bank, I've got to stop that wire." I was flipping out.

[00:06:52] Bob: It was his whole life savings. His whole new life. And now, it seemed like everything was up in the air.

[00:07:00] Paul: Yeah, we're not talking about $3000 I'm wiring to somebody for brand new TV. You know we're talking a big chunk of money, which I had been saving for many years, and it's like, I would have never in my wildest dreams or nightmares thought something like this could get past me.

[00:07:19] Bob: He ran back to the bank immediately.

[00:07:21] Paul: I went into the bank and I told them, I go, "That was wire fraud." They go, "Oh my God, it couldn't have been." I said, "It was." You know, I said, "All that information's fake." And they go, "Well how did it get into your realtor's email?" I said, "I don't know how it got in there. Look, we've got to stop the wire. We'll get down to this stuff later." You know, I go, "Stop the wire."

[00:07:39] Bob: The bank teller called the fraud department. She was put on hold, then transferred, then on hold again and again. No one seemed to know what to do. It seemed hopeless, but just then, help arrived.

[00:07:53] Paul: Well in the meantime I get a call from the title company because my realtor had called the title company and said, "Hey look, this guy just wired money to a dead zone on a fraud deal." He called me, and he goes, "You need to get home right away." And I'm thinking, "Who the hell is this guy?" You know, and he goes, he says, "You need to get home right away." He goes, "I have a friend of mine that does this kind of investigating," and he said, "I happen to know him well, and you need to get home. I already gave him your phone number; he's going to call you in about 10 minutes." And I got home, and this guy called me. And he said, "We're on it, we're working on it." I mean it was probably one of the worst days of my life other than losing a loved one. I'm just like, you've got to be kidding me.

[00:08:37] Bob: Hundreds of miles away in a different time zone, Tom Cronkright was in the middle of a very busy day at work.

[00:08:43] Tom Cronkright: Yeah, I was in a meeting at the time. I know this guy well, and he was texting me and he was blowing up my email, and I said, okay, let's shut down quickly what I was doing, jumped in and said, you know, "What's going on? How can I help? I'm reading between the lines here." But yeah, it's a drop everything moment. There's no doubt about it.

[00:08:58] Bob: Tom had to drop everything. It was already 4 pm Eastern Time and in Tom's line of work, 5 pm is kind of a big deal.

[00:09:07] Tom Cronkright: And that's when the title company got involved, and it was a large bank that, that Paul banks with. They were burning through some very precious time leading up to a 5 o'clock cutoff when the Federal Reserve closes for the day. So I got involved.

[00:09:23] Bob: Tom Cronkright owns a title company named Sun Title Agency in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But he also owns a company named Certified, which specializes in preventing wire fraud. And he has experience racing against the clock trying to recover funds that had just been misdirected by criminals. It's a personal quest for him. He was a victim once.

[00:09:45] Tom Cronkright: Yeah, back in 2015, my partner and I, we own a large title agency here in Michigan, and we were asked to, to help with a, a commercial real estate transaction, a gas station on the southeast side of Grand Rapids here in West Michigan. And through that process we ended up taking in what we thought were good funds, a certified check that was uh roughly $185,000, and then pursuant to the terms that the parties had put in front of us, we ended up wiring 180 of that 185 to what we thought was a legitimate seller at the time. And it turns out, if you kind of fast forward two years and what we learned through our civil litigation, that it was actually a Nigerian syndicate called the Nigerian Black Axe that was operating in North America orchestrating the fraud on both sides. So we had a fake identity of a buyer, uh we had a, it was a legitimate property, but we had a seller, who I believe his identity was also compromised, and then just this network, literally globally, it actually spanned seven different countries at the end of the analysis.

[00:10:54] Bob: These elaborate cover stories are what make mortgage wire fraud so lucrative and make the con so believable. In a typical fraud, criminals hack a realtor's email account then lay in wait for the perfect moment to hijack a conversation, and redirect a payment, a moment like a buyer emailing the agent saying, okay, where should I send my money? That's just what happened to Paul.

[00:11:18] Paul: The strange part about it was, is I had just emailed him probably two hours before that, and I got the answer back in like a couple hours. It wasn't like it was an email three days later. It was like, it was in response to, but it was a fairly quick response. More reason to believe it's legit. Well his response back was something like, yeah, it sounds like a good idea. And here's all the information you need. Here's where you wire the money, here's like a certain code or something that I had to tack on like a number or something. Make sure you give them this number on the wire, and it’s going to go to such and such a place.

[00:11:56] Bob: It seems like the perfect crime. Tom has even seen situations where criminals hack a realtor's smartphone too, so text messages confirming payment details look real. And they know how to hide their tracks.

[00:12:11] Tom Cronkright: So what they'll do is if, if they're in an email account, typically what they do, if they're going to engage from that account, not just use it to harvest information, but they're really going to run the play out of that account, they will create an auto-delete rule that the minute it would be sent to, in this case Paul, that email would be automatically deleted and then removed from any trash archive or something like that. Like it truly didn't exist. So if the real estate agent went and looked in his sent files, it simply wouldn't be there. So to the consumer, to the buyer, to Paul, well, it's my real estate agent again. He's telling me I've got to move money. It's a little strange because I'm not ready to close, but I know what to send, but okay, it's coming from him, he, he's my trusted advisor, I'll follow what he says.

[00:13:01] Bob: Realtors are particularly vulnerable because many of them are independent agents. They often have to supply their own email accounts, or they want to use their own.

[00:13:12] Bob: You know, I also think about real estate agents, you know, there's so many of them, that most of them work out of the office, they're on their, you know, they're using their smart phones all the time. It strikes me that real estate agents are probably a pretty easy target for email hijacking, is that right?

[00:13:27] Tom Cronkright: They have been. I don't want to single them out. I think everybody has some type of a target profile on them, but yeah, it ends up being a group because of the attributes that you just mentioned; they're very mobile, they're all independent contractors, they essentially, as a group, set up brands that are under their own identity.

[00:13:47] Bob: For years, we've told people to be wary of emails from free services or unusual sounding email senders, but in the real estate business, that can be common.

[00:13:57] Tom Cronkright: So for example, if they work for a big name brand broker, if they want to use like, hey, TeamTom@gmail or something like that, because they need the portability to create their own brand underneath, you know, the broker they may be with today versus the broker they may be with years down the road, but they really want to cement that identity and, and because of that you end up with, you know, Gmail and AOL and, and other types of accounts that are, that are free accounts but don't, don't come with the email monitoring and, and kind of the security out of a box that you get with an enterprise grade email system, unless they know how to configure it. And that's where a lot of them, unfortunately, don't do it that way. They don't have the level of hygiene if you will from a security perspective, and that's what could lead to an account takeover.

[00:14:49] Bob: Wire transfer criminals often show a lot of patience. They might hack a realtor's email, but just lurk for days, weeks, even months waiting for the right time to pounce.

[00:15:01] Tom Cronkright: It's essentially what happens. And most often they're in an email account between a week and a month. If it's somebody that is more of a, a high value target, a real estate agent, an attorney, a title company, you know, not only is a real estate agent working on Paul's deal, but could be working on 20 other deals. Well that's 20 other targets that that fraudster would have visibility to. So that's exactly what happened. He sees an email, Paul's leaving for a long weekend, Paul knows what to send in, and the fraudster then, impersonating the title company, strikes and creates an email with a set of fraudulent wiring instructions to manipulate Paul into sending funds to the title company early.

[00:15:51] Bob: Paul and, now, Tom, are in a race against time. Remember it's 4 pm. The Fed cutoff, the time when banks settle their wire transfers for the day, is 5 pm. After that, things would get a lot more complicated.

[00:16:06] Tom Cronkright: I had an hour before we knew that if we weren't able to get visibility into what was going on in the proper messaging to the bank that had received the fund or banks, we didn't know at the time, then it could be a rough next morning, honestly, depending on where the ultimate destination of the funds were going to do. If they were going to spread them overseas then, uh, you know a simple wire, just before the Fed cutoff, and now you're into a whole different world of recovery.

[00:16:32] Bob: Stopping a wire transfer is a true race against time. You need to get the right people on the phone fast, and you have to hope the money hasn't crossed the border yet.

[00:16:42] Tom Cronkright: A SWIFT recall is an industry term. I call it a, just a fraud alert, a freeze, and what you're looking for is just making sure those funds can't move. So what would have happened or what could have happened is that if, if leading up to 4 o'clock the money landed in the account, they could have transferred those funds overseas, and by the time business opens overseas, the money could have been in multiple different countries by the time our Federal Reserve opens local time the next day. That's the challenge.

[00:17:20] Bob: Wire transfers aren't exactly instant. Sometimes there are small delays, and in that case, it might work to Paul's advantage.

[00:17:29] Tom Cronkright: The time it takes to transfer a wire between banks, and for the receiving bank to be able to see it and confirm it, has everything to do with just how much traffic is going through the Federal Reserve. Think of it as a busy airport, you know, it's O'Hare or it's Atlanta, so how much is going through. Now sometimes early in the morning Eastern Time, you could send funds and you could have visibility in a few minutes. Now you get into middle day where now the entire country is moving you know, however many millions of wires a day go through, that could take a little longer.

[00:18:03] Bob: Criminals can't send stolen wire transfers out of the country in one transaction. That would raise too many alarm bells. So, instead, they split them up into smaller lots of money, smaller transfers. They also make several layers of transfers, Tom calls them hops, to avoid raising suspicion. These hops provided Tom's last chance to stop Paul's money.

[00:18:25] Bob: I like metaphors that almost but don't quite work. That's my specialty. But I mean the money still has to move from one place to another place to another place. And what you're trying to do is to get to a bank before it leaves that place and stop it from passing it on to the next one, is that right?

[00:18:41] Tom Cronkright: Yeah, I mean in our, in our fraud case, it was a triple hop. I love your analogy, so it had moved from West Michigan to New York, and then it had splintered into three different wires, down into the state of Texas in three different banks. And then those were set up to be released again, and it's typically that third or fourth leg where the money's just absolutely gone, either converted to cash or paying, you know, gift cards or, uh sent overseas and pulled out in what we would think is like a Western Union or literally sometimes out of these corner stores where cash is just pulled out into a, a local currency. So you're exactly right. You need to get ahead of it to make sure that anything that's inflight gets called back, and then that account is frozen, so the third leg is just that. So you alert the banks, get federal law enforcement involved.

[00:19:36] Bob: Meanwhile, Paul was pacing at home. Tom had been in touch with Paul all along, and he sounded positive. It was fortunate Paul had sent the text right away to his realtor confirming the wire transaction, and fortunate the title company got Tom involved right away. Still, Paul wasn't quite sure who to believe, and his life savings, his new home hung in the balance. Then the sun came up on the next day, and his phone rang. It was the bank. Like it never happened, Paul's ordeal lasted less than 24 hours. He was able to close on his new home without delay. He was also very lucky.

[00:20:18] Tom Cronkright: He was absolutely lucky. But I'm glad he's telling his story.

[00:20:23] Bob: Suggesting the vast majority of people in this situation don't get their money back. You know, it takes a day or two for someone to figure out something's wrong, and by then, it's too late.

[00:20:31] Tom Cronkright: It's too late, so if it goes from Michigan to New York to Texas, in my case, 15, well that's still the United States. If it goes from the Philippines to China to Russia, those are three different jurisdictions that you have to daisy chain to try to get those funds back. And it just unfortunately is, I'm not saying it's impossible, but the degree of difficulty is, is very, very high. So yeah, most people unfortunately uh they either suffer a total or at least a pretty substantial loss.

[00:21:07] Bob: Diane Tomb is the Chief Executive Officer of The American Land Title Association. Title companies usually manage home sale transactions, and she knows how severe the wire transfer fraud problem can be.

[00:21:22] Bob: How big is this problem, we'll talk about the scale in a minute, but I mean what's the largest amount you've seen someone lose in a fraud like this?

[00:21:32] Diane Tomb: You know, it's unfortunate to say, but there have been folks that have lost millions of dollars, you know, average folks who have lost their life savings; they were, you know, it's the first time that they were buying and selling a house.

[00:21:45] Bob: Millions of dollars. Wow.

[00:21:46] Diane Tomb: I know, I know, it's crazy. So I can give you an example of one that you know happened recently, probably in the last couple of years. There was a couple in California that found their dream home. They wired their funds to a certain bank, which was almost a million dollars, just as they were instructed. A few days later, the mortgage company called asking where this wire transfer was. The couple said they'd already had made the transfer. The mortgage company realized the couple had been a victim of wire fraud, and later, the couple figured out that while they had been exchanging emails with their representative, the fraudsters had inserted themselves into the conversation, they used an email address that looked almost exactly like the other party, and then once they had hooked the couple, they passed along the wrong wiring instructions. The couple, thinking they were buying the house of their dreams, sent the criminals money directly. The good news is, in this case the bank that was involved was working with the FBI, was able to recover the money. But that's not typical. You know, a lot of times these criminals are fast, and usually move the money as soon as they get their hands on it.

[00:22:50] Bob: So do you think criminals are, are getting more sophisticated and maybe using technology in, in newer ways with this crime?

[00:22:57] Diane Tomb: I think so, because, you know, having um, access to so many online resources, has given them an opportunity to do that.

[00:23:08] Bob: And let's talk about the scale of the problem broadly. So I read somewhere that the crime was up 500% year over year. Is, could that be possible?

[00:23:18] Unfortunately, that is true, and that was pre-pandemic if you can believe it.

[00:23:24] Bob: Diane stressed to me that this fraud can happen to anyone. And we mean anyone.

[00:23:29] Diane Tomb: Yeah, and you know, recently, it was a little over a year ago, we had a panel of folks participating in one of our annual conferences, and we did it on wire fraud to educate the folks in our industry what to look for, and there are so many different approaches that it's really hard. But we had a real estate agent, who was buying a house himself. This was a person who had been in the industry for 20 years, and it happened to them.

[00:23:54] Bob: Most consumers engage in only a handful of home sales in their lifetime. So the process is almost always very new and very confusing. Also, there is no one uniform way to conduct a home sale in the US. Confusion always creates opportunity for criminals.

[00:24:11] Diane Tomb: It's very complex. There's no really one way to do it. And so when you think that you've done everything you possibly can, they come up with something else. And particularly when, one of the things we're trying to do is raise awareness, they start to move into other areas, because it's more difficult for them to be successful.

[00:24:30] Bob: Another factor, more and more closings are conducted online, even signatures are virtual through DocuSign. There's no moment when all parties are in a room, no physical closing. That trend was really accelerated by the pandemic. And that also creates an opening for criminals.

[00:24:46] Diane Tomb: What makes this even more complicated is folks are buying homes completely virtually today, which is, in many cases, a good thing, because you know in the middle of a pandemic and the smoothness of the transactions can take place. There's, they're either compromised or they have other disabilities that makes it difficult to be in certain places to make this happen, but what happens as a result of that, a lot of times you cannot be in place, but the most important thing that you can do is not to send any wire, any money without talking to someone before that money goes to ensure where you're sending it is exactly where it should be.

[00:25:26] Bob: Tom Cronkright thinks there's something more than money driving the increase in wire fraud. Something deeper.

[00:25:31] Tom Cronkright: We're doing some webinars with the Secret Service and other things nationally. We're doing a pre-call at noon, and the why behind cybercrime and these networks, it's, it's just becoming an ideology. This is transcending just monetary gain into a different identity in some of these countries which is why it's probably not going to slow down anytime soon. It has so much texture to it, unfortunately.

[00:25:55] Bob: In fact, Tom believes it's a way of life, an ideology. Tom says many of the criminals think they have the right to steal the money because they believe they are reversing the impacts of colonization.

[00:26:08] Tom Cronkright: Some of these people are viewed as patriots because they're, they're basically trying to rewrite history by stealing money or data or somehow monetizing and then bringing back to the country things that probably should have been done, you know had that period of time not taken place. From everything I've learned, I would certainly subscribe to the idea that it has risen to the level of an ideology in some countries, if not a quasi-religion. I mean, look, if, if you're viewed as a patriot, if you're viewed as someone that is contributing to, to the greater good, even if it's a small faction of the population identify with, I think you’ve crossed into a totally different realm.

[00:26:52] Bob: It's also a very profitable realm.

[00:26:54] Tom Cronkright: They're getting financial benefit along the way, that's the other thing. You know, you're talking about the countries where you know, the average wire fraud in real estate's right around 200 grand for people that, well what do they make? Two thousand, three thousand a year? I mean that just pencils very well from a return on what is a pretty small investment of time typically.

[00:27:17] Bob: New technology is making things even easier for the criminals providing new attack vectors.

[00:27:22] Tom Cronkright: The newest flavors of this are synthetic identity is a big one. So they'll purchase credentials on the Dark Web for an individual. They'll open credit in that individual's name, and then they will create an entirely new identity, a truly a synthetic identity and add that identity to an account. So think of it as my identity's compromised. And somebody goes in and opens up credit in my name, a credit card or a line of credit, and then I add John Doe, a completely made up individual to that line of credit so that when this fraudster walks in with a completely fake, I mean fake, fake identity, like this person, the name and everything about it doesn't exist, they're able to interact under that account in my name. And then when law enforcement goes to investigate or show up, it literally is a ghost.

[00:28:24] Bob: A digital ghost, created out of thin air or more accurately, created out of ones and zeros. Criminal gangs are even using artificial intelligence to finetune their crimes.

[00:28:36] Tom Cronkright: Well that's what it would be. The artificial intelligence is just that on user behavior. It's on communication, it's on, it's dissecting the playbook of the industry or that network, that they're ultimately going to defraud. And it's just terrifying. There's no world where that's good for any of us.

[00:28:56] Bob: But while the criminals are evolving their tactics, banks and law enforcement are doing that too. And consumer education is a big part of that.

[00:29:05] Tom Cronkright: Yeah, I mean it's not all doom and gloom and peril. We really focus on three things. I think there's three things that you can do to keep your money safe and prevent a wire fraud or an ACH fraud from happening. Uh, first is awareness and education. Being aware, just like we're doing right now, right. Being aware that you or someone else in the transaction, their funds could be at risk. I think that's number one. And if you're in a position where you’re asking funds to come into an account that you have custody of, a trust account or an escrow account, I would argue, you have an obligation to let people know that this is an issue. You have an awareness; you have an education piece of that that has to be part of the workflow now. Second is you've got to verify identity. So if you're, before you send funds, before funds are sent to you, you have to make sure that the parties that are intending to exchange money financially or electronically are, in fact, the right parties. And the third thing that we say, seems to be the highest impact item, is turning on multi-factor authentication on your accounts. So your email account, you go into any type of settings, typically there's a security tab right under that, and it typically reads enable multi-factor or two-factor authentication.

[00:30:32] Bob: Okay, there's actually more than three things consumers can do, Tom says.

[00:30:35] Tom Cronkright: I can go on with 20 other things, but those three to start, and I guess the last would just be, you've got to be suspect, really suspect. Any new information, any changed information, you know, what I like to say is, on a time continuum, a real estate transaction's typically 42 days to close in the United States, okay. Why not have this conversation in the first couple days? How am I going to get the money to you, and what can I expect? So that, when something unexpected comes up, in air quotes, a new set of wiring instructions, or wiring instructions that come in early that looks like they're totally legitimate, just don't blindly follow those. I mean pick up the phone, go to Google or, you know, look them up independently. Do not call a number an email there that are attached to wiring instructions, 'cause you'd typically be calling the fraudster.

[00:31:29] Bob: Diane Tomb would add that it's never a bad idea to make that one extra phone call when you're about to engage in a really big transaction.

[00:31:36] Diane Tomb: Everybody needs to be aware when they are ever, um, someone's asking you to transfer money, or you are transferring money, that you have exactly the right information that you need. And even if you talk to them a few days in advance, calling, you know, maybe even right before you’re about to transfer that, is not a bad idea, because then you can be sure you're talking to the right people and the money's going to the right place.

[00:32:01] Bob: Paul is safely in his new home now. But the scars of his experience run deep.

[00:32:07] Paul: About four years ago I, I had a house, and a nice place I lived in, and it got broke into one night, and they not only vandalized it, but they stole half of everything I had and cleaned it out. And I couldn't sleep in that house period. I mean I just said I can't go back in there. And I put it for sale. So that same kind of insecurity, like I feel like somebody's out to get me. Your life's been violated, and it's something you had no control over. Yeah, you feel like someone took advantage of you, and it's not right. My world hasn't really uh gotten solid since that. I'm a real skeptic on a lot of things. I was before, like I said. But now it's, it's even worse. I mean I was even kind of leery about this phone call from you.

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[00:33:01] Bob: That's okay, Paul. It's good to be skeptical even if you get a call from me.

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[00:33:11] Bob: If you or someone you know has been a victim of a fraud or a scam, call AARP's free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can help you know what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.

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END OF TRANSCRIPT

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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