It was Ben Franklin who told people to believe only half of what they see. But perhaps he should have added a warning to believe even less of what they read … if it arrives via email.
Last week, a South Florida woman ignored that advice and almost lost $100,000.
Here’s what happened, and how you can protect yourself from falling for a similar scam:
A woman in Boynton Beach received an email from her real estate attorney just after she closed on a house sale.
A mistake had been made, the attorney wrote. The woman received too much money at the real estate closing, and now needed to return $96,455.54 via electronic transfer to an account designated in the email.
She promptly did so. But afterward, she followed up with the attorney by phone and learned that no mistake had been made and no such email had been sent to her.
A stop payment was placed on the transfer, and the police were called in. It’s unclear whether she was able to recover her funds.
You’re probably telling yourself that you are far too smart to fall for such a scam. But the most sophisticated scammers might send you an email that appears 100% legitimate. It might include personal information and details – like the name of a family pet, or a reference to what you discussed last week – that only the true sender could know. (Unfortunately, they may have captured that private information by hacking the sender’s entire email account).
In our industry, fraudulent emails asking for funds are so pervasive that we are no longer permitted to wire client funds based on an email request alone, and for good reason!
To protect yourself, follow our lead. You should wire or otherwise transfer funds only after confirming transfer instructions with the recipient over the phone, and only after contacting them at a phone number already known to you.