SALT LAKE CITY — Utah consumer protection officials launched a campaign Monday to warn residents about a rapidly growing email scam that targets property transactions.
"Utah’s real estate market is red hot and scammers are looking to profit millions off the backs of our hardworking citizens. Be smart and question any email message that looks different from what your real estate agent or title company instructed you to do," said Francine Giani, Utah Department of Commerce executive director.
The email scam targets property transactions to coerce people into wiring down payments and other high-dollar real estate proceeds to con artists’ accounts, according to the state Division of Real Estate.
Typically within 24 hours of a transaction closing, scammers will use the email account to send new wiring instructions to the buyer, seller, title or escrow agent, lender, real estate agent or broker. The instructions often have the funds directed to a bank account outside of the country. By the time the fraud is recognized, the money has already been withdrawn from the account, officials said.Comment on this story
“All parties in a real estate transaction should be very wary of any last-minute changes over email,” stated Jonathan Stewart, real estate division director. “Once criminals gain access to your email account, they can make anything sound legitimate."
Consumers nationwide lost $149 million, including $20 million in Utah, to the scam last year, according to an FBI report.
The state real estate division produced a public service announcement video that is airing on local television stations and a statewide billboard campaign running through the end of August.