The Financial and Consumer Services Commission (FCNB) is warning New Brunswickers to be wary of a spear-phishing scam targeting home buyers via email.
In a spear-phishing scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate organization or individual, and uses specific information about you to tailor their pitch, so the fake email seems even more real. FCNB was alerted to a recent incident in which a scammer gained access to sensitive information by hacking a mortgage broker's email address and attempted to steal closing funds via wire transfer.
In this incident, the scammer accessed sensitive information regarding a buyer’s real estate transaction and used this in a series of messages that appeared to be from the buyer’s mortgage broker and realtor. The emails contained increasingly urgent requests to wire transfer closing costs to the seller’s agent, along with instructions on how to do so. However, the wire transfer instructions were to the scammer’s bank account. The emails appeared legitimate because they used the first names of the buyer and real estate agents and used a spoofed email address for the real estate agent that was similar to the legitimate email address.
“When buying or selling a home, make sure you have a clear understanding of the closing process,” underlines FCNB spokesperson Marissa Sollows. “If you receive an email that seems suspect, or requests last-minute changes to the closing process, speak with your mortgage broker, realtor or lawyer by phone or in person to verify.”
In addition to urgently requesting immediate action, these red flags are often present:
- The information for the fund transfer is for a different financial institution than you expected or is otherwise unfamiliar or out of province.
- The company name on the wire instructions does not match the registered name of the real estate agency.
- The use of these specific words, sometimes awkwardly or coupled with grammatical and spelling errors: “kindly,” “confirm action,” “urgency,” and “Covid.”
- The scammer asking you to “reply all” to the email so you don’t notice a spoofed email address.
To avoid this type of scam, FCNB urges consumers to:
- Discuss the closing process and acceptable payment methods with your realtor and lender directly.
- Be wary of last-minute changes to a closing, especially if they’re urging you to act fast or send money immediately.
- Don’t follow up over email alone. Call to confirm any financial instructions or details using a legitimate phone number. Make sure you verify the phone number: Don’t rely on the number provided in a possible spoofed email.
Don’t email sensitive financial information. Hackers can easily access this information. Relay this information by phone or in-person If that is not possible, secure your documents with a password using software programs (Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat) or end-to-end encryption, or use a secure file sharing service. If you think you’ve been targeted by this type of scam, contact your financial institution immediately and report the scam to your local police or RCMP.