Social media has become a common way to advertise and market homes for sale. And when the sale is about to close or finally clears the rites of passage necessary to clear escrow, new home owners and former ones do the ‘Happy Dance’ and often social media is the instinctive first stop in the celebration.
It’s so easy, with one click, to let the world know the address, price and the individuals involved in the home sale. And while all these pieces of information eventually become a part of the public record, the issue at hand is WHEN this happens. By the time the Registrar of Deeds records the information pertinent to a sale for county records, it is often weeks after the home has sold and closed. The new homeowners have moved in and usually changed the locks.
The fact that information about home sales on social media is usually shared DURING the transaction process presents some unique challenges and to some extent risks for parties involved in the transaction. Over the past year, there has been more than one instance in West Michigan in which funds secured for a closing were requested to be transferred fraudulently.
The scam involved an ‘official looking’ e-mail with data pertaining to the date of the closing, the names of the parties involved in the transaction and the sale price of the home. The instructions requested a change in the wire transfer to a new account as a follow-up to a previous transmission. In at least one instance, funds were inadvertently transferred to the wrong party.
How can social media be dangerous? Well, when we share a status update on Facebook or other forms of social media, it is difficult to determine with absolute certainty the individuals who are reading a post and their intended purpose in potentially using the information for nefarious purposes. Giving a crook your name, address, when you will be moving/closing and the price for which you sold your home is like giving them a key to your front door!
There have been numerous instances in West Michigan where Craigslist posts have scammed individuals hoping to rent a home by posting false advertisements for rentals which utilized listing data. Unsuspecting home owners were sometimes surprised to find potential house renters peering into their windows or walking the property which they though was listed for rent – even with a real estate sign outside.
Every REALTOR knows that when we hold an Open House, we must take precautions to secure the property and ensure that we do our utmost to protect the owners most valuable asset, their home. This is even more important when dealing with online media where in essence the home is left ‘OPEN’ online for much longer periods of time. While, there is no 100 % guarantee against exposure to risk, there are some things which we can do to protect homes and secure funds during the process of the home sale transaction. These are:
- Limit the sharing! While sharing with friends and family is understandable, it may be prudent to wait until the home has closed and you have moved to share the details of the transaction with the world. And…does everyone really need to know that the home secured a full price offer and what that exact amount was?
- Know where your data is going! There are many portals online for disseminating real estate information. They are not all equal. Some portals are not diligent about updating information accurately or in a timely way. Keeping tabs on data sharing is a conversation which should occur at the beginning and during the transaction process.
- Listen to your gut! If something does not feel right, investigate further. A recent incident was thwarted when a suspicious e-mail caused an alert escrow officer and agent to do some further research. Report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities.
- Consider encryption! When sending sensitive financial data, lending institutions encrypt the communication to ensure security. Today, we must become more aware and sensitive to these types of concerns especially as more data is transmitted through online portals including cloud computing.
While this list is not exhaustive, it provides a few tips which can help you prevent your happy moment from becoming an invitation for thieves.