Frequently Asked Questions
Common Questions About Real Estate Wire Fraud
What is real estate wire fraud?
Real estate wire fraud occurs when a criminal provides a property buyer with fraudulent wiring instructions that direct closing funds to the criminal’s own bank account, rather than the title, settlement, or closing company. There are many ways in which this happens—the email accounts of attorneys, real estate agents, or title company representatives can be hacked or spoofed, or a scammer may call a buyer and pretend to be from the title company.
Why does real estate wire fraud happen?
There are a few reasons why criminals target real estate closings. First, real estate involves large sums of money changing hands, which makes it an ideal opportunity for scammers. These criminals also understand that they can take advantage of the fact that most homebuyers are on edge in the days leading up to the closing, and likely to quickly comply with wiring instructions that seem to come from a legitimate email address in order to not lose the home they’re buying. Finally, real estate wire fraud occurs because not enough professionals involved in the home buying process have sufficient safeguards in place to protect their clients. That’s why ClosingLock was created.
What can you do to protect yourself from real estate wire fraud?
If you are a consumer, the best way to protect yourself from real estate wire fraud is to understand the closing process and verify any requests for funds or personal information with the requesting party before sending them. For example, if your attorney emails you and tells you that funds need to be wired a day in advance, call their office and verify this. You may also wish to ask if your title company uses ClosingLock, which offers the best possible protection against real estate wire fraud.
What should you do if the wire has already gone out before you suspect it’s a scam?
Call your bank immediately to see if the funds can be retrieved or recalled and contact your realtor, attorney, and title company. Change your email password in case your account has been hacked and call your local police department. The crime should also be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Who is the responsible party in real estate wire fraud?
It depends. Oftentimes it is usually the consumer who bears responsibility for real estate wire fraud because they willingly sent the funds, even if it was under false pretenses. However, there have been court cases that have found other parties liable, including real estate agents, brokers, and escrow companies. In the end, it is far better to be proactive about preventing wire fraud from happening than determining who is the responsible party.
Common Questions About ClosingLock
What is ClosingLock?
ClosingLock is a service for companies to use to securely share wire transfer instructions and other documents with their customers (residential or commercial buyers and lenders). ClosingLock is here to combat wire transfer fraud.
Who is ClosingLock for?
ClosingLock is for closing companies (e.g. title companies, attorney offices) and property buyers/lenders. Closing companies simply select the wire transfer instructions they are trying to share with their customers (buyers and lenders). The buyers and lenders simply log into ClosingLock using their email address and select their closing company in order to retrieve the wire transfer instructions. Everyone (including real estate agents) can rest assured knowing buyers and lenders are receiving authentic wire transfer instructions from their closing company.
Why is ClosingLock better than current email/phone systems?
We provide a web-based service for securely communicating wire transfer instructions (and other documents) to buyers and lenders. Most closing companies rely on emails or phone calls to communicate wire transfer instructions and other documents. Unfortunately, emails and phone calls are easily hacked and spoofed. While those options are great for communicating insecure information, sensitive information such as wire transfer instructions should be transmitted securely using our website. Using ClosingLock helps eliminate the threat of phishing attacks on unsuspecting buyers.
What about encrypted or secure email?
Encrypting email is almost as old as email itself and there are many protocols and implementations. While it is difficult for a hacker to modify an encrypted email, this does not solve the major issue of spoofing emails. An encrypted email that is spoofed looks the same as a legitimate encrypted email. Therefore, nothing has been accomplished in trying to prevent fraudulent wire transfer emails. Furthermore, encrypting emails adds overhead to both closing companies and buyers/lenders by requiring passwords and encryption keys.
Can we use phone calls to verify wire transfer instructions?
You can try. Unfortunately, many closing companies think phone calls prevent wire transfer fraud. Just like emails, phone calls are spoofed and faked. Hackers are actively sending buyers and lenders incorrect phone numbers via email or text to call in order to ‘verify’ the wire transfer instructions. When the buyer/lender calls, the hacker provides the hacked account information. Meanwhile, the hacker also contacts the closing company pretending to be the buyer/lender. Hackers do this so the closing company does not realize the buyer/lender has not received the information. Unfortunately, the addition of phone calls has done little to protect the buyer.
“But we tell our buyers and lenders to independently verify the phone number!”
That’s a great step in trying to protect the buyer and lender. However, most buyers and lenders either forget to independently verify the number or are too lazy. If the buyer or lender is already expecting a phone number to call for the wire transfer instructions, then they are unsuspecting when a fraudulent phone number arrives via text or email. Closing companies and buyers/lenders can avoid all of this complexity and overhead by simply using ClosingLock.
Can’t closing companies educate buyers about the risk of wire fraud?
Sure, and most closing companies try to make their customers aware of the dangers of wire fraud via multiple outlets such as warnings, waivers, and email signatures. Unfortunately, the buying experience is overwhelming for many people and they become victims of wire fraud even though they were warned ahead of time. Over 50% of recent buyers are still unaware of wire fraud in real estate. Regardless of fault, nobody in the process wants to see a buyer or lender lose their payment. ClosingLock prevents the need for you to extensively educate every buyer and lender on the risk of wire fraud.
Can’t closing companies create their own services and systems to combat wire fraud?
Why reinvent the wheel? Closing companies are experts at closing real estate transactions, but we are experts at providing secure wire transfer instructions. Let us handle the worry and hassle of server maintenance, hosting, administration, privacy, and security. Proprietary systems cost more, have more bugs, and are less secure than standardized systems like ClosingLock. Read more here.
How much does it cost?
We’re glad you asked! Our low-cost pricing model works for any size closing company. We charge per file and invoicing occurs monthly. It’s a very small price to pay to eliminate wire fraud. Contact us for more information: [email protected]
What if my closing company has multiple branches/regions?
Perfect! ClosingLock is built to scale for any size client. We have customers ranging from single companies with one location to many companies spread across many states each with multiple branches. Our solution is perfect for any size company.
Can anybody sign up?
Surprisingly, no. In order to protect the integrity of our site, we must verify each company that wants to use our service. This typically involves research on our side, in addition to a short phone call. We do this to prevent hackers from signing up for our service pretending to be a closing company to defraud buyers and lenders.
After signing up, how does a closing company use this service?
First, a closing company provides us their wire transfer instructions which we securely store in our system. From then on, a closing company User needs only the email address of the buyer/lender and the file number (i.e. file reference number). Once the User enters the email address and file number, and selects the appropriate wire instructions (and uploads any other documents), our service emails the buyer/lender to let them know their wire transfer instructions are available. As mentioned, email is great for communicating insecure data (i.e. notice of information being available); our secure service is great for communicating sensitive data (i.e. wire transfer instructions). In addition, we CC the closing company User on every notification we send to the buyer/lender to increase transparency and simplify recordkeeping for the closing company.
What information is required from a buyer or lender?
No account or registration is necessary for a buyer or lender! Once the closing company User adds a buyer or lender to the system (outlined above), the buyer or lender simply logs in by entering their email address and choosing their closing company from a dropdown menu. Closing company Users can view if/when a buyer/lender has logged in to view their instructions. This allows closing companies to monitor for any potential delays in closing.
Our site works great on mobile, too, so buyers can access their wire transfer instructions directly from their smart device while at the bank!
What is an Admin vs a User?
An Admin is a type of User with additional privileges. Both Admins and Users can add new buyers/lenders to the system, as well as remove and notify buyers/lenders already entered. When an Admin/User adds a buyer or lender, they select the appropriate wire instructions from a drop down menu. No Admin or User can add, remove, or modify wire transfer instructions.
Admins can also add or remove other Admins and Users. The number of Admins and Users is determined by the closing company Admin(s). When a closing company account is created, a single Admin is created for that account. Note: we recommend providing Admin access to as few people as necessary.
How does a closing company get started?
Simply contact us to begin a risk-free 30-day trial. Use our service for as many or as few transactions as you’d like. If for any reason you are not completely satisfied, cancel anytime.
We would love to answer them! Please email us at [email protected]