The United States Secret Service announced in a press release dated September 1 that on August 23, it was successful in thwarting a real estate related business email compromise (BEC) scheme that sought to defraud a purchaser of more than $21 million.
The scheme attempted to divert closing funds to a fraudulent bank account. After quick action by the Secret Service and its private sector partners, the funds were returned to the victim.
Please refer to this Underwriting Memorandum issued by Chicago Title’s South Carolina State Office on September 20 warning that fraudulent wiring instruction schemes are on the rise.
These schemes typically employ altered or fictitious payoff statements. The fraudster often impersonates a mortgage broker, lender, borrower, or an agent of the borrower to request a copy of the payoff statement. Alternatively, the fraudster may intercept the payoff statement by a hacking or phishing ploy.
Armed with the payoff statement, the fraudster will create and transmit a bogus “updated” payoff statement with wiring instructions intending to divert the funds to the fraudster. The statement may also alter contact information so that telephone calls to verify payoff information will be answered by the fraudsters.
Chicago Title’s memorandum advises closing attorneys to take the following proactive measures to minimize the risk that payoff funds will be diverted:
- Obtain payoff statements early so they can be properly reviewed and verified.
- Verify banking information and payoff amounts directly with the payee using known, trusted numbers rather than information from the payoff statement.
- Refer to prior payoff statements from the same payee to confirm the banking information matches.
- Maintain repetitive wire information within systems or databases to use for future wires. Lock this information to restrict alterations.
- If it is impossible to make a verbal confirmation by a known trusted telephone number, consider sending overnighting a check.
Be careful out there, closing attorneys!