When making what’s widely referred to as the biggest purchase of one’s life, the last thing you want to worry about is whether some criminal could divert your money elsewhere. In fact, the whole existence of the escrow process is so that you can safely park your money with a neutral, professional third party before releasing it to the home seller. (Learn more about this in Nolo’s articles on “Escrow and Closing.”)
Technological improvements in the money transfer process mean that you at least don’t have to carry the money in a briefcase with an armed guard — but these innovations have simultaneously introduced a new type of risk. Hackers have reportedly found a way to bust into the email accounts of real estate agents and glean just enough information with which to masquerade as escrow officers and then send home buyers instructions on how to wire the funds to the hacker’s account instead of the sellers. (See “HACKERS PERPETRATE WIRE TRANSFER FRAUD IN REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS,” by Bob Hunt in RealtyTimes.)
Uh oh. How will you know the difference? With any luck, these hackers will continue to display the usual lack of professionalism shown in many scam emails, and perhaps tip you off by spelling “escrow” as “esscro.” But hackers seem to be getting smarter lately, which means Internet users must also get smarter.
Thankfully, as Hunt points out, there’s a low-tech solution. When you get the email with the escrow instructions, CALL YOUR ESCROW OFFICER. Confirm that the email truly came from him or her, and ask for the bank account number over the phone. It’s worth those extra few minutes of your time.