2023 Wire Fraud Trends: A Conversation with The U.S. Secret Service

Explore key trends in real estate wire fraud with insights and stories from United States Secret Service Investigator Stephen Dougherty.

2023 Wire Fraud Trends: A Conversation with The U.S. Secret Service

Explore key trends in real estate wire fraud with insights and stories from United States Secret Service Investigator Stephen Dougherty.

A triangle with an exclamation mark in it surrounded by red lights and numbers.2023 Wire Fraud Trends: A Conversation with The U.S. Secret Service
Written by:

Will Looney

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Published on:

Nov 16, 2023

Wire fraud in 2023 is a landscape of evolving threats and sophisticated tactics, as unveiled in our To Catch a Fraudster webinar with United States Secret Service Investigator Stephen Dougherty. 

In the discussion, he shed light on what he’s seeing on the frontlines of fraud prevention. While tactics like business email compromise are still being used, the explosion of generative AI and other deception technologies has challenged how the world spots and eliminates fraud.

From the evolution of social engineering to the threat of open-source information, here are the key patterns and trends that are shaping the current state of fraud.

Rather listen to this discussion? Click above to watch a replay of our To Catch a Fraudster webinar.

The persistent threat of “phishing”

One of the primary tactics still favored by fraudsters is “phishing.” Stephen emphasized its relevance, revealing that fraudsters still rely heavily on access to inboxes. Unfiltered access allows them to create specific auto-forwarding rules to sort and forward emails containing sensitive information.

Stephen recalled one particular investigation with a startling discovery: a compromised email account with over 136 rules redirecting critical payment details to a fraudster’s account. Watch the clip below to hear the full story.

See also: How to check your Gmail’s auto-forwarding rules.

The evolution of social engineering

Advancements in generative AI are empowering fraudsters and making scam detection increasingly challenging. New tools are blurring the lines between what’s real and fake.

Voice spoofing is on the rise

Stephen recounted an experiment where he used AI-generated soundbites to mimic his voice and deceive his colleagues. While some could tell “something was off,” others were convinced.

But voice spoofing isn’t just being used for social experiments. When paired with online phone number spoofing software, fraudsters can create conversations or voicemails that sound incredibly convincing. That can be dangerous for industry professionals who rely solely on phone calls for identity verification.

“As a realtor or title professional, your brand must be out there. There are things in the public domain that can be taken to convince someone that [a fraudster] is their realtor. Think about how powerful that is to trick a victim into sending money.”

Grammatically correct fraudulent emails

Stephen highlighted the recent introduction of “non-technical actors,” noting that you no longer need to speak the language of the person you’re trying to defraud. Using AI platforms, you can produce grammatically correct emails that eliminate the common signs of fraud (e.g. how the word “kindly” is often a tip-off that the email was written by a fraudster).

This is also making cybercriminal syndicates more efficient. In the past, pulling off fraud required multiple people with different technical skills; with the rise of automation, one person can easily manage an entire operation.

“Now you don’t have a person just writing emails; now you don’t have a person just spoofing domains. They’ve gotten a lot more specific in what they do and how they do it,” he explains.

Real estate: a prime target

With their high value and complexity, real estate transactions remain a prime target for fraudsters. In fact, 1 in 3 real estate transactions are targeted for fraud. And a wobbling economy isn’t slowing them down either; fraudsters are becoming more aggressive with the buyers and sellers still in the market. 

“As our threat actors have realized, there’s so much more meat on the bone. Which is why real estate is the most vulnerable sector [for fraud].”

(For more on the threat consumers face in today’s market, download our latest infographic.)

The menace of open-source data

Fraudsters are also exploiting publicly available data, particularly with the rise in seller impersonation fraud. What started with a handful of attempts targeting vacant land owned by foreign investors has exploded in volume over the past twelve months. 

Because information is so accessible online, bad actors can spend just a few minutes to get everything they need to commit seller impersonation fraud. 

“What’s really dangerous about seller impersonation fraud schemes is that there’s really no compromise that needs to be done. There’s no data breach that needs to occur. All the information that our bad actors need is open source,” he explains. 

“Then all you have to do is figure out how to impersonate that person and steal the land right from under them.”

In coordination with industry leaders, the government has released numerous public service announcements detailing the emergence and tactics of seller impersonation fraud.

Fraud stops with you

The tactics fraudsters use are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but so are the efforts to prevent and stop them. With each new headline and story, people are becoming more aware of the dangers of wire fraud. And the work that Stephen is doing on the frontlines is making a significant impact in curbing the malicious acts of fraudsters.

The best thing you can do as a real estate professional is stay informed and educate your colleagues and customers on wire fraud. You should also consider incorporating a solution like CertifID to protect your wire transfers. We encourage you to watch our blog and resources page for the latest on wire fraud and fraud prevention. We’ll ensure you’re not left in the dark.

For more on the latest trends in wire fraud, check out these resources:

Schedule a demo to learn more about CertifID’s wire fraud prevention solutions

Will Looney

Content Marketing Manager

Will is a Content Marketing Manager at CertifID. His multi-disciplinary experience as a copywriter and designer has powered growth for numerous consumer, tech, and real estate companies from the startup to enterprise level.

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