Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

The Better Business Bureau is issuing an alert on a scam that has continued to target Idaho home buyers. The scam is a form of spear phishing where scammers insert themselves into a real estate transaction and can steal tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Here’s how it works:

First, scammers hack the email accounts of the people or companies involved in a real estate transaction, including the buyer and seller, real estate agent, or title company. They then monitor communications to gather specific information about the transaction.

Near the closing date, the scammer will send an email either from a hacked account or from an email account they create with a very similar address. That email will inform the target of the scam that the instructions for wiring funds has changed. The new account the money is now supposed to go to is a fraudulent one, controlled by the scammer. The email looks legitimate since it may come from an actual email account involved in the transaction and may contain specific information about the transaction that only the parties involved should know.

The most important tip for buyers and sellers is to not rely on email or texting as a secure form of communication when discussing transaction details. All details of a wire transfer should be confirmed verbally with the real estate agent or title company, remembering not to use contact information in the same email saying wiring instructions have changed. Always verify the changes with someone you have been dealing with.

Businesses involved in real estate transactions should make sure their cybersecurity practices are up to date. This includes both technological defenses as well as creating a culture of strong cybersecurity habits in the office. Real estate agents and title companies can also help educate consumers by letting them know the ways they will contact them with important instructions like where to wire funds.

Idaho’s hot real estate market has presented great opportunities for consumers and businesses alike. But the quick pace of transactions and eagerness to close after a long search for a home can create the urgency and excitement that scammers can take advantage of.

“Unfortunately, email and Internet scams are more and more prevalent and pose a growing threat to the real estate industry,” said Idaho Realtors CEO David Hensley. “If you receive a suspicious email or text during your home purchase or sale, the Idaho Realtors encourage you to reach out and call your realtor to make sure it is not fraudulent.”

Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. Contact the BBB at 208-342-4649 or email to info@thebbb.org.