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Imagine you’re a first-time homebuyer who gets an email from your real estate agent or the escrow or title agency. The email instructs you to wire your closing cost money — which sometimes includes your entire down payment — to a bank account, and the style of communication, signature and email address all belong to someone you know and trust.

That’s the nefarious method some hackers are using to divert buyers’ money into their own bank accounts, potentially leaving the buyer high and dry when the time comes to close the deal and derailing a home purchase for good. It is a sneaky but simple fraud that experts say is widespread. On Wednesday, Washington Realtors released a video warning about the scam, and on Friday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a blog post.

Thieves hack into a real estate agent or escrow officer email account. They then monitor these accounts through the home closing process and create a perfect mimic of the email style and signature of the agent or officer.

About the time the buyer would normally expect to get instructions for how to transmit closing costs, the hacker sends an email with wiring instructions. Of course, the money goes to the hacker’s account. This all happens undetected by the escrow officer or the real estate agent. Washington Realtor legal hotline lawyer Annie Fitzsimmons explains the fraud.

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