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Buying a house or know someone who is? This down payment scam is a nightmare

As if looking for a new home isn’t stressful enough, buyers now need to be on the lookout for scammers, too. We recently wrote about thieves stealing home titles online. Tap or click here for the frightening details and ways to protect your home.

But there’s a new twist to home-buying scams. You won’t believe how sneaky these schemes are. If you fall for them, it could cost you the down payment on your new home.

Read on to learn how this scam works and what you can do about it.

Here’s the backstory

Anybody who’s bought a house recently can attest to the mountain of paperwork it takes. The process can take several months to run its course.

A down payment is an official way to put a claim on a new home. This is usually a lump sum paid upfront that gets deducted from the final sale price. Of course, the house is as good as yours after you’ve made a down payment and the seller accepts it. Unfortunately, this is where the thieves come into play.

The FBI warns that scammers target home buyers through phishing attacks. But some take that a step further and infiltrate business email systems. Known as business email compromises (BEC), the crooks can send emails to whomever they please while pretending to be from a legitimate company.

Here’s how the scheme works. The criminal will send potential home buyers an email with details on making the down payment. Are your spidey senses tingling? Yep. You guessed it. The message asks you to send the payment to a specific bank account. But the account belongs to the scammer, not the home seller or realtor.

If you wire money to cybercriminals, the chances of getting your money back are slim. That’s why you must be highly cautious before sending money to anyone. There are more ways to prevent falling victim to these types of scams.

How to avoid home down payment scams

The FBI has a small team to combat BEC, but it’s a constant battle against time. An agent speaking to Bloomberg under the condition of anonymity explains the FBI has about 36 hours to trace the money or it’s pretty much gone.

There are ways to minimize your chances of falling victim to a down payment scam. Here are suggestions from the FBI on staying safe:

  • Do not wire funds to people you do not know.
  • Do not put money towards a house or apartment you have not seen.
  • Confirm the seller’s identity by researching public records to determine who owns the property you want to rent or purchase.
  • Do not fill out applications online until you have met directly with the seller or realtor.
  • Be wary if a potential seller says they are out of the country and wants the down payment sent to a foreign account.
  • If you receive an email or text about a down payment, phone the realtor first to confirm that they send the message. Also, verify the banking details and ensure all the data is correct.
  • Don’t click on links or download attachments you receive in unsolicited emails or texts. They could be malicious and used to rip you off or infect your device with malware.

What to do after wiring money to a scammer

If you think you’ve wired money to a thief, take these actions ASAP:

  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering the fraudulent transfer.
  • Request that your financial institution contacts the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent.
  • Contact your local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office if the wire is recent. The FBI, working with the U.S. Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, might be able to help return or freeze the funds.
  • File a complaint, regardless of dollar loss, with www.ic3.gov or, for BEC/EAC victims, bec.ic3.gov.

Keep reading

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