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Couple sues real estate agent, title co, bank over wire fraud #WatchOut

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Wire fraud in the digital age: it happens. Is there anything that can be done about it or is everyone vulnerable?

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bonds and mortgages

A simple wire transfer

It should have been a dream come true for James and Candace Butcher. They’d chosen the house they wanted to retire in, negotiated the price, and sold their home for a down payment.

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All that was left was the last wire transfer – $272,000.

The next day, they were bankrupt.

Too good to be true

Like many older adults, the Butchers entered the real estate market with family in mind. They wanted to live closer to their son, and to have a place big enough for grandchildren to enjoy.

“We were truly excited, when through negotiations, we won the bid,” Candace Butcher said. “Through the entire process, I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is going to be our house.”

All it took to rob them was a simple confluence: wire fraud and poor security precautions. The email that provided the Butchers with wire transfer details was sent from the proper domains for the Butchers’ pay agreement, under the proper names.

The only problem, according to the complaint and the Butchers’ attorney, was that those domains had been hacked.

Someone had gotten inside Land Title Guarantee Co. and Envoy Mortgage and used their contact information to obtain a fraudulent wire transfer.

The secret behind the hack

It’s a frighteningly simple trick: all it takes is the password to the right email account. The exact dollar amount had yet to be specified, and the Butchers had no reason to think an email from their mortgage company would be anything but legitimate. They’re currently suing both companies for insufficient security.

They’re also suing Wells Fargo, the bank handling the transfer. According to the complaint, Wells Fargo failed to acknowledge the fraud and neglected to make recourse available, including a 72-hour freeze that would have saved the couple’s savings.

Instead, while the problem is being resolved, the Butchers are living in their son’s basement.

The details of the whole sad saga can be found here, but the takeaway is simple: security is everything. Everyone cares about housing. Not everyone is an expert in data security. The real estate industry has a moral and professional responsibility to guarantee secure transactions.

Better safe than sorry

Real estate customers can avoid tragedies likes the Butchers’ by taking precautions on their end.

The National Association of Realtors provides guidelines for both. They should be required reading for anyone in real estate, but by way of a simple version:

If you’re a real estate professional, be aware of the possibility of fraud. Build warnings into your client communication structure. Better yet, educate your clients about common types of scams and what to do about them.

Better than better, designate or hire a staff member who is specifically responsible for the process, keeping lines of communication open to guarantee this never happens to you.

Don’t reuse passwords.

Don’t repeat passwords.

Clean out your email to secure sensitive information.

Instruct clients double-check everything. What happened to the Butchers started because they trusted an unverified email.

Don’t do that, ever.

When you receive instructions via email, confirm them by phone or in person, and at the risk of stating the obvious, don’t use any of the contact info in the email. Some very committed hackers will even put up legitimate looking websites. Call someone you’ve already spoken with in person, or for that matter, drop by.

New startup solves this problem

You can do all of those things and still feel insecure about the process. But we’ve uncovered a brand new real estate tech startup that is dedicated to solving this problem.

BuyerDocs can help prevent wire fraud cases like this with its simple, free, easy-to-use solution. Our service can save home buyers from losing their down payments to a scam, while also helping protect title companies from potential lawsuits,” Abigail White, Cofounder & CMO

Because the startup is brand new, it’s not yet the industry standard, but it truly should be.

Send a link to your title company and ask why they’re not using BuyerDocs to protect your clients.

Finally, trust your instincts and teach your clients to do the same. If something about the transaction feels wrong, go with that feeling and confirm.

The Butchers are working with attorneys and the FBI to resolve their fraud claim. This is how you keep from having to do the same.

#fraudsucks

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Homeownership

Start up creates online platform to make building homes easier

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Atmos wants to help simplify the dream home building process by moving it online. Their platform will help you find builders, designers, and financing options.

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Atmos homes

A start-up plans to bring together people, processes, and tools into one digital place for buyers to design and build their homes from start to finish. Co-founder and CEO of Atmos, Nicholas Donahue, grew up in a homebuilding family and always wondered what it would look like to use technology to rebuild the industry.

“Nearly everyone used to want to build a home; it was the American dream, but most people choose not to do it because of the complexity,” Donahue said, “While everything else has moved fully online, homebuilding is still the same in-person process. We are making the process simple enough that anyone can build the home of their dreams, modernizing and revitalizing the American dream.”

The way Atmos works is that they partner with local home builders that they claim to vet based on accreditation, reputation, proof (insurance + funds for construction loans), and pricing. Customers input their desired location and floor plan for the site on the platform. Atmos finds builders that best match the plan and coordinate the rest of the tasks to get the home built, including design, fixture packages, and financing. The company partners with local real estate agents to help sell a client’s existing home, or allows customers to use their own real estate agents if they prefer.

Atmos is participating in the California-based Y-Combinator accelerator, most known for launching companies like Airbnb, DoorDash and Instacart. The company has raised more than $2 million in VC seed round funding from Sam Altman of YC/ OpenAI, Adam Nash of Wealthfront, JLL Spark, and others.

According to Donahue, the rise in demand for housing in emerging cities coupled with low inventory makes building a more attractive option for buyers. He said “homeowners are converting from buying to building and when doing so are being forced to go online because of in-person restrictions. This has provided a huge opportunity for an online alternative to come into the space.”

Additionally, an increasing number of remote workers have come to envision their homes as combined office, schooling, and family spaces. In response, real estate agents report more requests for larger homes with outdoor space and dedicated offices, particularly for homes in the under $400k price range.

Atmos is currently focusing on Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte markets as they continue to refine their business model. Long-term, Donahue says the goal is to “redefine the way people live by enabling the next generation of homes and neighborhoods to exist.”

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Homeownership

FHFA extends rent moratoriums through August

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Don’t freak out about the FHFA extending the moratorium, while many in the pay chain are affected, here’s what it means for Real Estate.

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FHFA moratorium

As millions of Americans lost their jobs at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the FHFA announced a temporary prohibition of evictions and foreclosures that was set to expire on June 30. After reevaluating the job market and the record low unemployment rate, the FHFA extended this moratorium through August 30.

However, never did the FHFA nor the federal government put a hold on the rent, utility bills, or car insurance. Instead, most peoples’ bills have become endless. It’s a full circle here, those who can’t pay their rent impact their landlords ability to pay rent, so on and so forth.

The FHFA moratorium extension allows Americans to attempt to catch up on their bills as their jobs open back up. That said, there will be a glut of rental inventory as thousands of residents have been laid off or furloughed and can’t possibly come up with several months’ worth of rent. The long term effects will ripple through the sector, from rent decreases in some areas, to vacancy levels plummeting in others.

That said, industry experts maintain that while the industry will slow due to the global pandemic, the housing sector will be revived toward the second half of the year. It is not expected to be at full steam within this calendar year, however.

NAR President Vince Malta recently commented on existing home sales, “Although the real estate industry faced some very challenging circumstances over the last several months, we’re seeing signs of improvement and growth, and I’m hopeful the worst is behind us.”

But landlords are in a different boat than the rest of the sector, and have a certain struggle ahead. Some refused to be flexible with renters, while others have sought ways to retain residents without having vacancies or having to invest in turning a unit. This moratorium helps many renters, but landlords, particularly private landlords (not multifamily) will be hard hit.

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Homeownership

4 million homeowners skip mortgage payments as forbearance requests slow

(REAL ESTATE) It is no surprise that mortgage payments are being skipped across the nation, but it’s not all a total loss…

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home mortgage payments

Over 4.1 million American homeowners are currently skipping their mortgage payments on a temporary basis as COVID-19 keeps the economy shut down, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

Meanwhile, forbearance requests have slowed – the MBA’s weekly survey indicates that 8.16 percent of total loans are now in forbearance plans, up from 7.91 percent the week prior, and while the share of loans in forbearance is rising, the trend is toward requests decreasing.

Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, said in a statement, “There has been a pronounced flattening in loans put into forbearance – despite April’s uniformly negative economic data, remarkably high unemployment, and it now being past May payment due dates.”

Congress passed the $2.22 trillion CARES Act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), under which homeowners holding a federally backed home loan may delay mortgage payments for up to a year, but politicians are quick to remind folks that the money is still due, and fees may still apply during the forbearance period.

This relief effort is the primary reason so many did not pay their mortgage this month. People are still unsure of whether or not they will be employed in the near future, and are managing their finances accordingly, particularly while lenders are still in the mood to negotiate. Economists believe that difficulties will be ongoing, and homeowners will continue to struggle as a whole.

While our economy hasn’t been hit this hard since the Great Depression, and unemployment numbers reveal widespread economic devastation, slivers of hope remain. Forbearance requests slowing isn’t the only housing hope – new home construction levels are down, but nowhere near at the same pace as other sectors harder hit.

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