Wire Fraud: How Criminal Prey on the Real Estate, Construction, Manufacturing and Art Industries

In any industry where money is transferred or large bills are paid,the door is open for hacks. In manufacturing they pay large vendors for all materials and sometimes overseas. In construction developers pay contractors huge sums of money for labor and materials. You might be buying a home or an expensive piece of art, and either way, these transactions are typically not done in cash. You might think that in well-established industries such as the real estate industry, construction and manufacturing, there are checks and balances, but this isn’t totally the case. The same goes for the art industry.

Most of us won’t be buying multi-million-dollar pieces of art imported from Italy, but many people reading this will buy a home.

As we look at the home buying process and scams, the information is pretty frightening. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is part of the FBI, released a report that showed email fraud in the real estate industry rose more than 1,110% from 2015 to 2017. The amount of money lost in real estate fraud rose approximately 2,200%. What does this mean? It means scammers are more efficient than ever before. In 2020 that number jumped another 13%. Recently in a real estate transaction a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, wired $921,235.10 to scammers.

In 2017, almost 10,000 people reported that they were a victim of fraud and identity theft during real estate transactions, and in total, the money lost topped $56 million. Only recently has the real estate community been paying attention to this, but it’s just not enough. Again, the same thing can be said about the art world. Both of these industries are having big issues with fraud.

The Story You Have to Hear

 Every once in a while, I meet someone in my travels who seem to have the perfect life…or at least I would consider it to be pretty great. These people are smart, they have made the right choices, they have worked hard, and they have reaped some amazing awards. A couple of years ago I met a married couple who had this perfect life. The guy was literally into money. His job was to not just handle investments for companies, but for actual countries. He brought in huge commissions for this work, and the pair could literally buy anything that they wanted. However, this also made them a target for scammer.

With all of the money they had, the couple soon got into a new hobby: collecting fine art. Though I don’t know a ton about art, I can tell you that their collection was pretty amazing. They primarily collected at type of art called hyperrealism. Essentially, artists who work in hyperrealism create paintings that look like photographs. Look it up…it’s very cool.

Long story short, the guy decided that he wanted to buy a new painting. It had a price tag of $200,000, and he did this via email. Now typically, this is where alarm bells might go off, but the guy didn’t think this was weird, as he had done it like this several times before. This time, though, things were different.

You see, as he was emailing with the gallery he purchased the paintings from, a hacker was able to intercept the emails because the gallery got hacked. Instead of wiring the $200,000 to the gallery, he wired it directly to the hacker.

Keep in mind, this guy was in finance, and people in this industry are specifically conditioned to know about risk. After talking about it later, he said that there were a couple of things in the emails that could be a sign that something was wrong, but again, doing transactions via email is pretty standard in the art industry as it is in real estate.

Thankfully, his bank noticed the transaction because the account that he wired to was brand new, and the system his bank used was set up to flag any transactions that go to a new account, especially with that amount of money.

Once his bank got in contact with him, he immediately contacted the gallery and they confirmed that they had not gotten the money, and instead, it was probably a fraud. Of course he panicked, and thought his $200,000 was about to vanish. He called anyone and everyone he could think of to stop the transaction.

Finally, he realized that his company had a connection to someone higher up at the bank. He was able to get a personal call in, and they were able to stop the wire from completing. He was very lucky, but not everyone is.

Understanding How the Hack Works

 Though scammers have options at their fingertips, they do tend to like this hack, and they use it to target collectors, art galleries, manufacturers, construction companies, developers, and of course real estate companies, and more. So, if you work in these industries, or you interact with people in these industries, make sure you keep your eyes open.

Essentially, these hackers get information from data breaches, which give them email addresses and passwords from millions of people. So, when the art gallery sends an invoice to the art collector via email, the hacker realizes it, and they will step in.

The hacker takes on the persona of the dealer, the real estate agent, the developers bookkeeper, or the construction companies accountant, and comes up with a story that the client might believe, such as they need to issue a new invoice because there was a typo on it, or they need to change the instructions that the client must follow. They do this so that they can justify a change in the wiring and might even say that they can offer a small discount for the inconvenience. Usually, the buyer or the admin is happy to do this, and once the money is sent, the hacker collects it and disappears.

Victims of These Scams

 When we look at these scams, both the buyer and the seller, and all the companies involved are victims here. They are all left in the dark, and the hacker hijacks the communication. In other words, they control the emails, and they play both of the parts. In the art industry, for instance, when the gallery sends an email to its customer, the hacker intercepts the email and pretends to be the customer. The same thing happens when the customer sends an email to the gallery.

Since the hacker does this, there is plenty of time to cover their tracks and disappear. In the meantime, time and money is lost, and in some cases, the art gallery has even had to shut down for good.

Tips to Keep You Safe

If you work in any of these industries, keep these tips in mind:

  • Email account passwords should be very strong and unique. Don’t ever use the same password for more than one account. When creating a password, use uppercase and lowercase letters, and mix them with characters and numbers…and change them frequently.
  • Use password manager software and have a different password for every account.
  • Set up two-step authentication for your email account. When you log in, you will get a one-time password to your mobile phone, which means someone would need your password and your phone to get into your account.
  • Use an escrow service if you are sending large sums of cash.
  • Pick up the phone and call to confirm every step of the transaction.
  • Keep your anti-virus software updated.
  • When you send an invoice through email, text or call the recipient to check that they got it and that the account number is correct.
  • Talk to your staff about the importance of security, and make sure they understand what phishing scams are. Also, teach them not to click on any attachments or links in an email unless they have confirmed and verified the link or attachment by phone.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.

Are you at risk of wire fraud in Real Estate?

Closing on a new house is very exciting, but it’s also busy and expensive. It also could make you very vulnerable to hackers who know there is a lot of money on the line.

Real EstateAny industry involving wiring transfers of large sums of money is vulnerable to this new type of hack. Purchasing a car, home or piece of art are large transactions and are not usually done in cash. In well-established industries like real estate, there are some checks and balances, but while one would think it would be very tough to pull off this scam in real estate, it is just as easy.

When looking at the home buying process, a report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said email fraud involving real estate transactions rose 1,110 percent in the years 2015 to 2017 and fraud dollars lost rose almost 2,200 percent. That means scammers are getting more efficient.

Nearly 10,000 people reported being victims of this kind of fraud in 2017 with losses over $56 million, the FBI report said. Real estate is only now tightening its belt and fighting back. However, the real estate industry’s security is not even close to the levels of security in the art world. Yet, both industries are susceptible to this new hack.

How the Hack Works

Although it’s not entirely a new concept, this is the freshest approach hackers are targeting real estate agents, and your clients. You need to put this on your radar! This is a pretty simple hack. Basically, criminals are breaking into the email accounts and then they monitor the email correspondence. Breaking in, in other words means “logging in” because millions of email addresses and their associated passwords are in the hands of criminals due to massive data breaches. So when the agent sends an email to client maybe with wiring instructions, the hacker is triggered and will step in. The bad guy will now impersonate the agent and warn that the instructions had a mistake on it or change up the instructions. The criminal does this to justify a wire transfer, maybe offering a slight discount, and then asks the buyer to send the money to a different account. Once the hackers have the money, the hacker just disappears.

The Victims of This Scam

Both buyers and sellers are victims here, and in many cases, both are left in the dark because the hacker hijacks the conversation. In other words, they take control of the emails and play both parts. This gives the hacker plenty of time to cover their tracks and get away, and in the meantime, money and time is lost for all parties involved. A wire fraud happening in the finance industry used to be a “thing,” but there are so many security protocols in place within finance making it difficult to pull off a transfer scam within the financial space.

Tips to Keep Email Fraud at Bay

These tips are for buyers, brokers, and real estate agents.

  • All email account passwords should include uppercase, lowercase, numbers and characters. Never use the same password twice—NEVER.
  • All email should have two-step authentication. This means after logging in, a one-time password is texted to the user’s mobile for account access.
  • Make sure to change all passwords for online accounts, including Wi-Fi, regularly and especially after a data breach.
  • Escrow services are your friend. There’s a ton of them. The gallery or broker will, or should, have a relationship with a trusted source.
  • Pick up the phone, and confirm every aspect of a transaction until you are blue in the face and annoying everyone involved to the point you are satisfied that the money is safe.
  • Update all of your anti-virus software.
  • When you send an invoice via email, call or text a trusted number of the recipient to double check that they got it and that they have the correct account number.
  • Urge all of your staff to remain vigilant when opening emails, and make sure that they do not click on any links or download attachments unless the correspondence has been verified by phone. If you have doubt, contact the sender by phone.

There is so much more to this, and, while I can’t solve all the world’s problems, I can at least make you cyber-security smarter and digitally literate.

Become CSI Protect Certified

If any or all of the above has left you empowered, meaning you feel you have a grip on it all, good for you. If the above was a bit overwhelming, confusing and made you feel like you have a LOT of work to do, then you need to become CSI Protect Certified. That means as a small business owner you become fully versed in Cyber Social and Identity Protection. CSI Protection Certified Agents recognize risk and know how to protect their information, their business data and their clients security.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.

Louisiana Woman Tries to Buy a Million Dollar Home with False Documents

Have you ever seen a house and thought…I wish I could afford that? Some people actually try it, but let this story be a lesson learned: if you can’t afford the cost of a house, you probably shouldn’t try to buy it.

Robert Siciliano Marriott Breach

Pamela Chandler was arrested and now faces forgery charges after she tried to purchase a home with a million-dollar price tag. How did she do it? She used false documents. Chandler, who also goes as Pamela Goldwyn, was arrested by a special Financial Crimes Task Force in Bossier City, LA. She also has several warrants out for her in Texas with crimes including fraud and the exploitation of certain groups of people including children, the elderly or the disabled. She was booked in jail and was not given a bond, as she is a flight risk.

According to court records, Chandler, who lists her age as 47, has a permanent address in Athens, Texas, but also has addresses in Maryland and Louisiana. A local Bossier City realtor reported her to local law officials after she tried to use illegitimate paperwork to buy the home. She claimed to have a trust fund, but the paperwork just didn’t add up. As the task force began to investigate the situation, it was found that she had also altered a letter from a layer to try to convince the realtor that she had enough in this fake trust fund to buy the home. It was also discovered that she had used a number of aliases over the years. It is believed that she uses an alias in a specific area until law enforcement catches on to her scams, and then changes her name and moves to a new area.

Much of the problem here can be blamed on easily obtained fake IDs. The fact is, our existing identification systems are insufficiently secure, and our identifying documents are easily copied. Anyone with a computer, scanner and printer can recreate an ID. Outdated systems exasperate the problem by making it too easy to obtain a real ID at the DMV, with either legitimate or falsified information.

Some of the department of multivehicle new requirements of improving facial recognition include not smiling for your picture or smile as long as you keep your lips together. Other requirements meant to aid the facial recognition software include keeping your head upright (not tilted), not wearing eyeglasses in the photo, not wearing head coverings, and keeping your hair from obscuring your forehead, eyebrows, eyes, or ears.

The fact is, identity theft is a big problem due to a systematic lack of effective identification and is going to continue to be a problem until further notice. In the meantime it is up to you to protect yourself. The best defense from new account fraud is identity theft protection.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity Protection security awareness training program.

Fake Real Estate Agent Caught Stealing $30K in Jewelry

Recently, a man was accused of pretending to be a real estate agent just to steal some jewelry from an open house. According to Toronto police, he has been arrested.

The victims are a couple (their identity isn’t being listed for their safety). They had an open house in a small city called Oakville. It’s in Ontario, which is about an hour west of Toronto (also in Canada). According to the investigators, a 29-year-old man saw an online ad for the open house. He decided to pretend that he was a real estate agent, went inside the home, and stole over $30,000 worth of jewelry from one of the upstairs bedrooms.

A native of Willow Beach, Ontario, a nearby town, the man was charged with a single count of being in a dwelling unlawfully and a single count of a theft over $5,000. Local law enforcement believes that this theft wasn’t an isolated incident. They’re currently encouraging people with information to provide details on this case or others in which they believe the man might be to blame.

Throughout the years, many criminals have tried posing as real estate agents to get access to people’s homes and buyer’s homes. Just last month in California, a woman was arrested for posing to be a realtor to steal tens of thousands of dollars from homebuyers.

Along with such, another man was arrested in January on the suspicion that he had posed as a real estate professional to steal rare art, expensive jewelry, and fine wine from a variety of celebrities, including Adam Lambert and Usher. His name was Benjamin Eitan Ackerman. It is important that homebuyers ensure that they are talking with their real estate agent each time that they speak with them on the phone or email them. You should see company letterhead on emails and may want to call the agent back on the number you have for them to ensure your safety.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.