Real Estate Scams: Spoofing, Phishing, Wire Fraud, and More

Discover the latest real estate scams and get tips on safeguarding your business and clients.

Real Estate Scams: Spoofing, Phishing, Wire Fraud, and More

Discover the latest real estate scams and get tips on safeguarding your business and clients.

Illustration of a cell phone with binary code behind it and a shadowy figure on the side.Real Estate Scams: Spoofing, Phishing, Wire Fraud, and More
Written by:

Tom Cronkright

Read time:

8 minutes




May 2, 2023

The real estate industry has come a long way in grasping the telltale signs of real estate scams, working hard to shift the advantage away from cybercriminals looking to defraud buyers and sellers. 

These critical investments in new tools, education, and coordination across the industry must continue. It’s also essential to stay ahead of real estate fraudsters’ latest techniques—the scams and tools they use in hopes of a big fraud-related payday.

In this article, we examine the latest developments in real estate scams that the CertifID team is monitoring, and we share tips for safeguarding your business and clients from these threats. 

The evolving real estate scams CertifID is watching

Although the real estate industry has become more adept at identifying and preventing real estate scams, criminals are still working hard to find new ways to trick victims. Here are some of the most creative and dangerous tactics the CertifID team is keeping an eye on. 

Increasingly sophisticated fraudulent documentation

As digital tools become more accessible, criminals are using them as part of sophisticated scams to deceive victims. One of the most notable techniques is spoofing trusted versions of documents and other communication, such as emails and letterhead. 

In these cases, fraudsters take advantage of customers who do not know what a "trusted" document from a legitimate real estate professional, title company, lawyer, or bank looks like. By manipulating documents and impersonating legitimate sources, these scammers can trick individuals into providing sensitive information or making fraudulent payments. 

Bolder fraudsters 

Similarly, real estate fraudsters are also becoming bolder in their attempts. In addition to spoofing trusted documents and communication channels, these criminals are now taking a more direct approach, contacting incoming or potential clients directly to learn more about their transactions and using that information to build call chains with other involved real estate professionals to extract detailed information. 

Armed with the right information, these fraudsters can facilitate or manipulate significant portions of the real estate transaction and build trust among several victims. Even more concerning, fraudsters are enlisting other unwitting victims or co-conspirators to show up in person and support the fraudulent exchange with fake identification or documentation.

Digital communication

As coordination moves to digital communication and leads to fewer in-person meetings, fraudsters are tricking victims with technology that facilitates the creation of spoofed phone numbers and convincing fake websites. 

By spoofing the phone number of a legitimate company or bank, the fraudster can appear more trustworthy and increase the chances that a victim will provide sensitive information or send payments. These tactics may also be paired with fake websites that closely resemble legitimate sources—often complete with similar branding, design, and language—to trick victims into entering their personal information. 

In addition to the exploitation of unsuspecting buyers and sellers through fake websites and phone numbers, cybercriminals have also been using a tactic known as business email compromise (BEC). By hacking into the email account of a real estate agent, title or settlement company, or other professional involved in the transaction, fraudsters can impersonate them in email correspondence with other involved parties and manipulate financial information within the transaction.

How to stay ahead of these evolving real estate scams

To protect your business, clients, and your reputation from real estate scams, it's important to think proactively. Here are some key actions you can take to stay ahead of fraud attempts lurking around the corner.

Educate clients early and often

To stay ahead of evolving real estate scams, proactively educate clients. Some of the most effective techniques include:

  • Providing resources and information to clients on how to identify and report real estate fraud
  • Teaching clients about common warning signs of phishing emails and suspicious transactions
  • Offering guidance on how to verify the legitimacy of communications, documentation, and transactions
  • Encouraging clients to ask questions and seek help if they are uncertain or suspicious about any aspect of a communication or transaction
  • Sharing real-life examples of real estate scams, key indicators of a scam, and methods to avoid scams

Offer secure payment instruction options

Take the sensitive financial information out of less secure forms of communication by leveraging an industry-leading platform like CertifID, which gives your clients and business the ability to:

  • Utilize end-to-end encryption to protect communications and the sharing of sensitive financial and account information
  • Independently verify the identities of all parties involved in a transaction before sharing sensitive information or initiating a transfer
  • Take additional steps to independently verify bank routing information to ensure that it is accurate and legitimate
  • Offer access to professional fraud recovery support, if the unthinkable ever happens due to improper or lack of verification 

Practice strong cybersecurity hygiene

Because it's difficult to predict what techniques fraudsters will attempt next, it is equally important to ensure that your organization and employees are practicing strong cybersecurity hygiene. These steps include:

  • Enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) on customer accounts and key systems to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information
  • Enforcing password policies that require a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, and that users change them frequently
  • Educating employees on how to recognize and report suspicious activity such as phishing emails or requests for personal information
  • Verifying the identity of all parties involved in a transaction before sharing any sensitive information or making payments

Stay ahead of tomorrow’s real estate scams

The real estate industry has made significant progress in identifying and preventing real estate scams, but cybercriminals are still finding new ways to trick victims. This is especially true as new digital tools become more accessible and ubiquitous, paired with fraudsters who are more sophisticated, creative, and bold in their tactics. 

It is more important than ever to take proactive security steps such as educating your clients, securing the wire transfer instruction process, and practicing strong cybersecurity hygiene. By staying ahead of the latest fraud tactics like those shared in this article and taking proactive measures, your business can better safeguard your organization, clients, and reputation from the damaging effects of real estate fraud.

Want to take your protection against wire fraud and other real estate scams to the next level? Get your own copy of CertifID’s e-book, Clear to Close: The Complete Guide to Real Estate Wire Fraud, now!

Tom Cronkright

Co-founder & Executive Chairman

Tom is an accomplished entrepreneur and licensed attorney. He has founded and led award-winning businesses to receive honorable recognition in their respective fields. Tom is also a highly sought-after speaker who lends his expertise to the world of real estate, fraud, and security-related topics across the country.

Getting started with CertifID is easy.

Request a Demo