Fraud is on the rise in today’s world and in the escrow industry. Escrow wire fraud has become alarmingly common, and it is surprisingly easy to fall for. The way it works is simple — you get an email, phone call, or text message from someone claiming to be associated with your agent, broker, or other party involved in your transaction. At first it seems legitimate. The person contacting you sounds official and has the right information and they claim to be affiliated with someone you are working with. Why would you even question it? Just give them what they need and get back to your busy day.
And that is exactly what they want you to do. Before you know it, they have cleaned out your accounts and are gone while you are left picking up the pieces. But by being diligent and using some common sense, you can avoid these scams.
Here are a few simple things to look for so you can avoid being a victim:
Fraudulent websites are designed in haste – and shabbily too – so there is a high chance that certain vital information will be lacking, or fed with false information. In many cases, the con artists will imitate the websites of the legitimate escrow companies to make their scam look legitimate. This can involve copying company logos, legal disclaimers and even entire web pages. However, such copying can be rather sloppy. For example, a copied legal disclaimer may feature the company’s original name, the copied web pages may contain broken links, etc. If the scammer copies the official website’s coding, they may wind up creating websites with oddly spaced paragraphs, coding instead of images, and otherwise broken layouts.
The less obvious errors should also be a tip-off. In many cases, scam artists do not bother to proofread their websites, leaving spelling and grammatical errors. Alternately, they may use the words incorrectly. For example, they may use “there” instead of “their”, “than” instead of “then,” etc.
Watch emails received from your Escrow Company/Escrow Officer. They may copy a logo, but watch to see that the entire email is in the same format, such as the company’s original name, the copied web pages may contain broken links, etc. Be sure to check the email address you are receiving an email from. I may be slightly altered.
Unresponsive Customer Service
Legitimate escrow companies will have customer service workers that will be able to respond to you directly during working hours. Con artists, on the other hand, do not always have the resources to pull this off. If you call their customer service number you will wind up getting voicemail. In some cases, you may not get anything at all. Either way, this is a clear sign that you are dealing with a scam. If you are unsure, search your web browser for our company web site and phone contact directly on your own.
Questionable Payment Methods
A legitimate escrow company will always ask you to wire money from your bank to theirs and will provide you an account number and a routing number. To be certain that an escrow company is legitimate, ask your bank to tell you where the money is headed. Whenever you are asked to pay money to an individual rather than a corporate identity, or asked to make payment using a person-to-person money transfer – consider it a fraudulent scheme.
Putting money in the bank leaves a paper trail, and many of them have criminal history that prevents them from claiming it, so they will request it be sent to some sort of trusted intermediary. Alternatively, the scam artists may ask you to send the money through Western Union or MoneyGram, hoping that you will not realize that both companies only send money from person to person. No escrow company or lender will accept Western Union or Money Grams.
Lack of Online Presence
If you look up a name of a legitimate escrow company on any search engine you will find many results. If you look up fake companies, on the other hand, you may not get any results other than the fake website and online advertisements. Generally speaking, the less results the search generates, the more likely it is to be an escrow scam.
How Can California Consumers Protect Themselves Against Online Escrow Fraud?
Californians can call the California Department of Business Oversight toll-free at 1-866-275- 2677 to make sure the escrow company you plan to use is properly Licensed.
Here are more tips for online shoppers to avoid escrow fraud from the California Department of Business Oversight website:
- Never disclose financial or personal information like your Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account information until you have verified that the online escrow company you are using is properly Licensed.
- A buyer or seller who insists on using a particular escrow company is probably trying to steer you towards a fraudulent escrow services site.
- Watch out for escrow company sites that don’t have an address and phone number listed. If the site does list a phone number, call the number and be sure you speak to a live person. A generic voice mail is a sign that the company may be fraudulent.
- Send the escrow company an e-mail question. If you don’t receive a response, don’t do business with them.
- Sometimes a phony escrow company Web site can be detected by its sloppy content, with spelling and grammar errors and inconsistent information. Other times, the site’s information may have been copied from legitimate escrow company sites.
- Find out how the online escrow service processes transactions. Steer clear of sites that don’t process their own, but require users to set up accounts with online payment services instead. Legitimate escrow companies don’t use person-to-person money transfers like Western Union or MoneyGram or direct you to send your payment to an individual rather than a corporate entity.
- Fake escrow company sites often display logos from the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign Secure, TRUSTe, and even the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. Check to make sure the escrow company really is endorsed by these organizations.
- Avoid escrow company sites with domain names ending in .org, .biz, .cc, .info., or .US.
- Be wary of a seemingly terrific deal. Scammers post online classified ads and offer items via online auction with very low prices. Remember, these so-called “deals” are just the hook to get you to use a phony escrow company site.
What Happens at Citrus Heritage Escrow?
During the escrow period, our title department begins researching and examining all historical records pertaining to the subject property. Barring any unusual circumstances, a commitment for title insurance is issued, indicating a clear title or listing any items which must be cleared prior to closing. The commitment is sent to you for review.
Your escrow officer follows instructions on your contract, coordinates deadlines, and gathers all necessary paperwork. For example, written requests for payoff information (called “demands”) are sent to the Seller’s mortgage company and any other lien holders.
When choosing an escrow company there can be many important factors to evaluate. Fees, location, staff and even recommendations from friends and colleagues are all things to consider. With Citrus Heritage Escrow by your side, you can rest assured that when you receive your settlement check, you’ve gained the maximum benefit from your home sale or purchase.
Call us today with any questions or concerns. Our professional Escrow Agents will help you through this exciting yet confusing process. (951) 335-7200