Speaking of Real Estate
Wire fraud schemes have been a hot topic in the real estate industry lately. But one real estate pro says she’s been caught up in a different kind of nightmarish scam — one that victims can do virtually nothing to prevent.
Sue Dietz, CRS, a sales associate with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Dubuque, Iowa, who also served as president of the East Central Iowa Association of REALTORS® in 2016, says scammers have used her identity to create fake email addresses in her name and then sent fraudulent emails offering referrals to other real estate agents. The emails also contained fake contact information for Dietz. Recipients who responded to the email were sent a Google Drive link that they were told contained listings the referred client wanted to see. However, the link, once opened, installs computer viruses that allow scammers to scrape passwords and other personal information.
The initial fraudulent email typically reads:
My name is Sue Dietz a realtor with RE/MAX ADVANTAGE REALTY in Dubuque IA, I have a client who is interested in buying a property in your area of expert, Please let me know if you’re available to help them out and I will send their contact details and the listings they are interested in.
People who receive this email are encouraged to report it as spam or a phishing attempt. The hope is that if enough people take such action, the IP address of the sender will be blocked.
Since February 2016, when the scam apparently started, nearly 4,000 practitioners nationwide — from all 50 states and Canada — who received the emails have contacted Dietz to either confirm the referral or warn her of the scam. “I’ve gotten calls at the office, on my cell phone, texts, and emails at all hours of the day and night,” she says. “There was one day I had over 100 pieces of correspondence just about these emails.”
Last year, Dietz received a threatening email from an anonymous sender accusing her of trying to steal their money, she says. She has tried to get the word out about the scam by asking every agent who contacts her about the emails to alert their local associations. She has also included a warning in her personal and business voicemail messages and on her website bio.
Dietz also recently received a fraudulent email in the name of another real estate agent, so she’s not the only one whose identity is being used in this way.
“Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible on the front end to prevent a fraudster from using your name in a scam,” says Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®. “If you are the victim of any kind of identity theft, the best course of action is to immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and your local authorities.” She cautions that recipients of suspicious emails appearing to come from another real estate professional should search that practitioner’s name on Google to compare their business email address and contact information to that of the sender.
“I think most people respond to the emails and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take your referral,’” Dietz says. “All they need to do is Google me — my website is the number one result when you search my name — and they’d see I wasn’t the one who sent the email.”
If you want to keep your email more secure, Edgerton offers the following tips:
- Check your sent mail, junk mail, and email account settings regularly for anomalies. Hackers often break into an email account and modify the “email forwarding” settings to forward emails to their own account.
- Regularly purge your email of unneeded or outdated information. Save any important emails securely.
- Avoid email as a method for sending sensitive or confidential information. Instead, consider using a secure document sharing or transaction management platform.
- Use strong passwords that incorporate a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Use two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication.
- Avoid using unsecured or public Wi-Fi.
The retirement boom is on for baby boomers so expect a lot of downsizing in the years ahead as older homeowners replace their suburban house with a condo. Now, how do you respond if you have clients who want to use a reverse mortgage to buy their new place?
It’s not your job to be a financial advisor, but it doesn’t hurt to know how reverse mortgages for purchase work. That way, if a client wants to go this route, you will at least understand the mechanics of these mortgage loans.
In a revese mortgage for purchase, buyers put up sizable down payments and in return get to have their monthly mortgage payments come out of the reverse mortgage rather than their pocket. That keeps their money free for spending on other things. Of course, when they go to sell the house or refinance the mortgage, the amount of the mortgage they’ve used to make their payments is a negative against their equity.
These mortgages remain a small part of the market, but as young boomers retire, many of them might find the option attractive. To help you at least understand how these mortgages work, REALTOR® Magazine is hosting a live webcast on Feb. 22 with a real estate pro and a lender who do a lot of these reverse mortgage transactions, which are backed by the FHA, by the way. If you watch the webcast, you can ask them questions while it’s going on.
A summary of the upcoming webcast is a top story in the latest Voice for Real Estate news video. The video also looks at how the confirmation of Ben Carson to be HUD secretary is going. The video excerpts from his testimony before the Senate Financial Services committee at which he said all Americans should have an opportunity to own a home and that the federal government should maintain a role in the secondary mortgage market even while it encourages private-sector alternatives. He also said the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage plays a key role in healthy housing markets.
The video also looks at the Trump Administration’s suspension of a planned FHA mortgage insurance premium reduction. The suspension was issued before the reduction took effect, so no one’s insurance premium will go up as a result. But NAR would like to see the reduction put back on the books, because an estimated 40,000 households would be able to buy that otherwise couldn’t.
Another segment looks at last year’s final existing-home sales number. It was 5.45 million, a 10-year high. Expect even more sales this year, but there are two negatives in the market: persistent inventory shortages in many parts of the country and the likelihood of higher mortgage interest rates. Even so, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun expects home sales to rise by 2 percent this year.
Reverse mortgages, also known as home equity conversion mortgages (HECMs), can be used to help seniors finance the purchase of a home in addition to their traditional purpose of enabling people to borrow against the equity in a property where they already live.
Learn about when and for whom this tool may be appropriate in a live webcast hosted by NAR on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
- Scott Trembley, CEO of The Trembley Group, a real estate firm in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that handles home purchases with HECMs
- Frank McInerney, a loan specialist with Reverse Mortgage Funding in Bloomfield, N.J.
- Jon Boughtin, NAR Communications
Here we are at the beginning of a new year once again, and you’re probably already thinking about how to make 2017 even better than 2016. But let’s take a minute and appreciate the great work you did last year. It was definitely a big year for real estate, and we asked real estate professionals to share the moments they were most proud of in the business in 2016. The question is how will you follow it up with even bigger accomplishments in 2017? Take a look at some of your colleagues’ biggest achievements in 2016, and tell us your own story in the comments section below.Love and Real Estate
In searching for a date, I encountered a woman with whom I shared similar interests: live concerts, movies, eating healthy, and enjoying each other’s company. As we got to know each other, we discovered that we both were in real estate; she is a rental property owner, and I specialize in residential property management. I helped her divest her inventory and replace them with higher-quality rentals, as well as get the management accounts for the properties. We now share the same household together! —Norbert Huston, GRI, Huston Associates Real Estate, Stockton, Calif.Back to Where It All Started
This year I was blessed with a heartwarming sale. I had the opportunity to sell a generational homestead back to its original family. It had ended up as an REO with the last owners (non-family members), and my clients called up wanting to see it. I had to tell them it was already under contract, but they begged and I relented. While I was showing the home, I heard whispers among my clients: “Remember when you fell in the creek, Dad?” That’s when they told me their story and how much they wished they were able to repurchase their family home. With a wish and a prayer, I called the listing agent and asked her to please allow us first dibs if the current sale contract were to fall through. The listing agent said it was a pretty solid deal, but she’d let us know. The following Tuesday, the deal miraculously fell through, allowing my clients the opportunity to buy back their memories. It was a very touching sale and one that reminds me every day what a wonderful profession real estate can be. —Jacklyn Leber, e-PRO®, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties, Twin Bridges, Mont.Proving Her Professional Worth
I got a seller $30,000 more for her home than she was asking as a FSBO. —Kathleen Marie Stansfield, GRI, Exit King Realty, Venice, Fla.Balancing Priorities
I was an NAR regional vice president and still had a record year for sales and profit. —Joe Pryor, CRS, e-PRO®, The Virtual Real Estate Team, Oklahoma CityA Win for Everyone
My proudest moment was when I worked out an occupancy between my seller and a woman in her 70s going through a divorce. He needed to have a means of income, and she needed to have a place to live right away. The transaction closed about five months later. I felt I delivered on my duties to all parties. —Don Day, SFR, Diamond Realty & Associates, Bossier City, La.Overcoming Complex Challenges
I completed a transaction that included an appraisal that came in $65,000 low, a lengthy temporary lease for the buyer, acreage that had to be reallocated and resurveyed, and a chicken coop full of chickens! It was an extremely complex transaction, but with the right attitude and a spirit of cooperation, the other agent and I were able to successfully close this transaction. I’m counting this as my big win for 2016. —Dana Johnson Williams, GRI, RE/MAX ONE, Beaumont, Texas
What was your biggest accomplishment in 2016? Share your achievements in the comments section below.
The following status update on mortgage debt cancellation relief, an important federal tax issue for homeowners, is written by Jon Boughtin of NAR Media.
The 114th Congress recessed in early December without completing work on a so-called “tax extenders” package needed to continue important tax breaks for real estate. This included tax relief for the cancellation of mortgage debt, as well as the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums.
Mortgage debt cancellation relief is important for underwater homeowners who, without the provision, would be taxed on mortgage debt forgiven in a short sale. Mortgage insurance premium deductions, likewise, are helpful for a large number of homeowners, particularly first time homebuyers, who lack a 20 percent downpayment when purchasing their home.
The National Association of Realtors® advocated for a tax-extenders package that would extend both of these provisions into 2017, but Congress adjourned without taking further action.
Although these provisions expired at the end of 2016, there is a misconception that they are unavailable to homeowners for the 2016 tax year. Both the mortgage debt cancellation provision and the mortgage insurance premium deduction are available to homeowners filing their 2016 taxes this year.
Further work is required in Congress to extend these provisions into 2017, and NAR is supportive of those efforts.
You can learn more about this issue at NAR.REALTOR.–Jon Boughtin, NAR Media