CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The United States Secret Service is investigating a half-dozen real estate scam incidents in the Lowcountry.
"We have six known cases in the low country in the last four weeks with total losses approaching half a million dollars," Agent John Kenney said.
The scam targets emails being exchanged between closing attorneys and realtors as a real estate deal is about to close, Kenney said.
Hackers have accessed the closing attorneys' email accounts and created a spoof account which closely mirrors the attorneys' actual email addresses, he said. Investigators say the hackers then send an email with "new" or "updated" wiring instructions for the closing funds from the spoof account, which may only vary by one or two letters from the actual account.
When the attorney executes the wire transfer of funds from escrow, the money goes to the hackers, not the actual seller, Kenney said.
"We are working with victims, banks and other law enforcement partners to identify and arrest offenders," he said. "While the scheme operates in a similar manner, we do not believe that the cases are related at this time."
Kenney said there are several things those involved in real estate deals can protect themselves:
- Be especially wary of new or updated wiring instructions.
- Read email addresses letter for letter and confirm by phone with known business associates.
- Confirm all details, including banking information, by phone prior to authorizing the wire.
- Do not be rushed or hurried. Do not attempt execution of wires just prior to close of business.
- Have all escrow account insurance policies up to date.
If you've fallen victim to such a scam, Kenney says you should contact your local law enforcement and your bank.