The New Jersey Law Journal interviewed Co-Managing Partner Michael R. O’Donnell and Partner Bethany A. Abele extensively for its January 19, 2022 article “Lawyers, Title Insurance Companies Targeted in ‘One of the Hottest Real Estate Scams.’” The article addresses the growing fraud scheme in which hackers intercept money sent by wire transfer during closing transactions.
Mike and Bethany discuss why real estate transactions have become such a target of these schemes, and how law firms and settlement agents can protect against it. “It’s one of the hottest real estate scams going,” Mike said. Mike noted that often litigation results when real estate closing funds are intercepted by fraudsters. “Who is left holding the bag depends on a number of circumstances. At the end of the day, the person usually left holding the bag is often going to be the settlement agent who didn’t notice the [irregular] payoff statement and authorized it,” he said.
Bethany explained why real estate transactions are particularly vulnerable. “When you have a real estate transaction, a lot of times you have major funds transferring hands. You’ve got prior mortgages that are being paid off. You’ve got loan proceeds being transferred. You’ve got large sums of money being transferred. And I think that’s probably what they’re looking for—they’re thinking this is an easy way that I can sneak in there and I can grab that money.”
Among the recommendations Mike and Bethany provide to avoid falling victim to wire fraud are reviewing the information in the payoff demand, not just the wire information; calling the beneficiary at a known number and verifying the information; resisting pressure to close too quickly; and being suspicious of last-minute changes in closing directions.
See the full article at Wire Fraud.