By Suzanne De Vita
Whether by compromised data, cracked passwords or phishing, real estate is a target for cyber criminals. More and more, homebuyers and sellers-and the practitioners who serve them-are reporting theft via wire fraud, in which criminals access emails, learn of a pending transaction, and then message phony wiring instructions to victims. Bogus DocuSign emails, emails with illegitimate referrals and ransomware are also on the rise.
Being a victim of wire fraud can be devastating – the funds are almost always irretrievable once sent. And aside from making off with money, criminals can filch personally identifiable information, or PII, through any or a combination of schemes.
So how can you protect yourself when buying a home?
1. Being aware that you may be a target is key to protecting yourself from fraud. By educating yourself on the danger, you’re much more likely to identify suspicious activities and changes to procedure that are utilized by hackers.
2. Be sure that you clearly understand the wiring instructions for your transaction, and ensure that you’re getting that information from a verified source. Title and settlement companies should send you instructions on your wire transfer through a secured service, not just through an email. Many will also have their standard procedures posted on their website. Make a phone call to a number that’s listed on the title or settlement agency’s website to speak with a real person to verify the information. Don’t just call the number listed at the bottom of the written instructions – that information could be bogus too.
3. If something seems wrong or fishy, it probably is. If you are sent a message requesting a partial payment, notifying you in a change in the deadline for your transfer, or detailing a new procedure for your wire transfer, don’t do anything without talking to your agent. Last minutes changes are a big red flags.
Spring into Lawn and Garden Care
If cooler weather has you longing for sunny days outdoors, take heart. Once spring rolls around, you can safely begin the annual cleanup to prepare your yard for months of warm-weather enjoyment.
Start with the lawn. Look for bald spots where grass has grown sparsely and needs reseeding, or uneven areas that may need to be filled and leveled. Use a thatching rake to remove dead roots and grass. Break up the soil in bare spots to create an environment that will be hospitable to new seed. Add lawn soil to level the surface. Then you’re ready to over-seed or spot seed, depending on your lawn’s needs.
Your garden and flower beds are next. Begin by clearing away any debris like leaves and other matter that piled up during months of neglect. Gently turn the soil and work in fresh fertilizer. Before your plants and flowers are in full-growth mode is the ideal time to make repairs. Check edging for any damage, replace rotted woodwork and complete any other maintenance tasks.
The warmer months may still seem far away, but getting some of your lawn and garden care underway now can make those warmer, sunny days feel closer in no time.