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Security professionals are warning users who are or soon will be engaged in real estate transactions to watch out for the “homeless homebuyer” scam.

On 10 September, Verdict built upon its coverage of account takeover attacks found in its threat insight magazine Verdict Encrypt to discuss this particular scam.

The homeless homebuyer ruse first begins with an attack targeting a real estate agent. Per enterprise security firm Proofpoint, such an attack may take the form of a malicious email document that delivers a remote access trojan (RAT) or an infostealer. Bad actors may then leverage a successful malware infection to conduct a business email compromise (BEC) attack so that they might seize control of the agent’s email account and steal customers’ information, including when a particular homebuyer might be closing on a house and the amount they will pay.

Next, the digital attackers will inject themselves into the real estate transaction by abusing the compromised real estate agent’s email account to send a email. That message will oftentimes contain instructions for the homebuyer to send their down payment to an account under their control. Believing the email to be legitimate, the homebuyer will send their payment and in so doing could lose a significant chunk of money to the bad actors.

Dr. Markus Jakobsson, chief scientist at email threat protection provider Agari, says not all hope is lost if someone falls victim to the homeless homebuyer scam:

The odds are reduced and reduced over time, but if people realise that they’ve been had, they should just run to the bank. Almost always this is about wire transfers, and wire transfers actually can be reversed. It’s not easy, it’s not foolproof, but if you run to the bank within 24 hours there is a chance.

Potential homebuyers can protect themselves against these and other scams by verifying a change of payment details with their real estate agent over the phone or in-person.

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