You've made it. You've achieved the American dream: home ownership! You're just about to sign the papers and transfer the property rights and make the initial payment on the biggest purchase of your life. At the last minute, your lender sends an email — there's been a mix-up, a problem. Here's an updated link to deal with it quickly and easily. What do you do next?
Scammers hope that you don't look too closely at their phishing attempt. This is a classic case of wire fraud, and it costs American homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars each year. With so much of the buying process going virtual to stave off COVID-19, it seems easy to rope in a frazzled and overwhelmed first-time homeowner with a fake transfer for that initial down payment. If you stay on your toes and carefully review all communications with your bank, your leasing agent, and your mortgage provider, it's much easier to save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache.
First, before you share any kind of bank information or initiate any payments of any size, get a human being on the phone to confirm every detail of the process. You may also want to look carefully through any emails from the potential phisher for signs that it's not an official communication, like odd URLs or unfamiliar names and addresses. Make sure your realtor knows you've been approached; they can advise you on next steps and reporting the attempted wire fraud to right authorities.
It's nearly impossible to get your money back once you've sent it out, so confirm with a verified source as early and as often as possible. Home ownership doesn't have to begin with a body blow like that.