Message from the President
by Sharon Ciminelli
How to Avoid Real Estate Cyber Scams
Phishing, hacking, wire fraud - these are all ways people attempt to steal from others online. As real estate searches and transactions move more and more online, the chances of being caught up in a cyber scam have become even greater.
By now most people have heard of the Nigerian prince scams or phishing emails asking for social security or banking information, but many people don’t know that they need to watch out for possible scams when buying or selling their home. Cybercrimes have become increasingly sophisticated over the years and the people perpetrating them focus on situations where a lot of money is changing hands, making real estate transactions an ideal target.
The National Association of Realtors recently warned its members and consumers about one example, a wiring scam during the closing stage of the home buying and selling process. Hackers will break into the email accounts of consumers and real estate professionals to get details about a real estate transaction. The hacker will then send an email pretending to be the buyer, seller, real estate agent or someone else involved in the closing process and say there has been a last minute change and provide new wiring instructions; the instructions send the closing costs funds directly into the hacker’s bank account.
While it may seem like there are hundreds of ways for a criminal to take advantage of a consumer online, there are just as many ways consumers can protect themselves. Here are a few tips to help home buyers and sellers recognize and avoid real estate scams:
Do not send sensitive information via email. Do not send banking information, your social security number or anything else that could be used to comprise your identity over email.
Do not click on unverified email. If you do not recognize the name or email address of the sender, do not open the email and beware of any attachments or downloadable files from unknown email addresses; they can contain viruses or provide a way for a hacker to access your computer.
Do not use unsecured Wi-Fi. It may seem harmless to check banking information using the free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, but using an open connection can leave you vulnerable to hackers and scammers.
If you suspect fraud, tell someone. If you suspect that fraud has or is in the process of occurring, contact all parties contacted to the transaction immediately. Unfortunately, often there is nothing that can be done to retrieve money stolen in the scam, however, you should still report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission.
$2,000 Grants May Be Available to First Time Homebuyers
Since 2002, June has been declared National Homeownership Month noting the benefits homeownership brings to Americans and the nation. The NYSAR Housing Opportunities Foundation supports those benefits by awarding $2,000 grants to low-to-moderate income individuals and families, who are working with a REALTOR and may be struggling to cover their closing costs or downpayment. The foundation is also raising funds to support this grant program. Learn more here.
State Tax Department issues STAR tax credit guidelines
The New York State Department of Tax and Finance has published a form for distribution to new homeowners providing guidance on the new STAR tax credit program. Homeowners who purchased their current home prior to May 1, 2014 and already receive the STAR exemption under the current program do not have to do anything. There are no changes for them and they will continue to receive their STAR exemption. If a homeowner purchased a home between May 1, 2014 and Aug. 1, 2015, they may fall under the new STAR credit program and may have to apply. More information can be found here. Homeowners who purchased after Aug. 1, 2015 will fall under the new STAR credit program and will have to register here.
2016 BNAR President, Sharon Ciminelli, Chooses SPCA Serving Erie County as Her Charity for the Year
The SPCA Serving Erie County provides both animal rescue and educational services that empower individuals to become caring, responsible citizens who value animals as a vital part of their community. Consider adopting! In addition funds are needed to Raise the Roof. Donations are needed to pave the way to Petopia a newly built facility for the SPCA who will be moving to Harlem Road in West Seneca. Go to www.yourspca.org to find out more. Other ways to help out is donating always needed items or purchasing items needed for Petopia!