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Cybercrime in the Real Estate Market: Protecting Yourself as a Seller or Buyer

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

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By Chetrice Mosley-Romero

June is National Homeownership Month, and whether you’re a Hoosier homeowner, or you’re looking to buy or rent, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that your experience is safe and secure.

Houses are expensive, so the profits for cybercriminals are ripe. No matter whether you’re buying or renting, there are some online scams you’ll want to avoid that could cost you thousands of dollars.

Recently, a couple in California, looking to rent a home, found a property on Facebook. It seemed great, except that the property was not for rent. The real owners had no idea that the property was on the market and the fake landlord had gotten the pictures of the inside of the home from Zillow. Luckily this couple went to the property and knocked on the door, saving themselves thousands.

The FBI routinely provides information, warning American families of homeowner scams. In 2021, the increase was a staggering 64 percent compared to 2020 in real estate-related cybercrimes.

Wire fraud is just one of the other types of scams out there relating to the real estate sector. Some 13,500 people fell victim to this type of scheme, costing them more than  $213 million dollars. All too often, scammers will try to sell a property they don’t own, such as what happened with the couple from California.

As a homeowner, you can search for your own property online right now on sites like Facebook Marketplace or to see if someone is trying to list it as their own and report it. As a buyer, be sure to read through the contracts carefully to protect yourself and your investment. It could save you from such things, as a lockout clause, and doing your due diligence could help you avoid sending money to a scammer.

When it comes to agreeing to a wire fraud transfer of funds, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) recommends all homebuyers and sellers double check all wire instructions with the title company. Each wire should be verified in person or on the phone with an authorized company representative. The ALTA website also features a brief video with additional information on ways to properly securing your property against other types of scams.

When it comes to reporting these types of scams, you can contact the FBI. If it involves a fraudulent rental listing, the Federal Trade Commission offers resources that can help you.

Best of luck in your journey to securing a home that’s truly your own!