Ask about your options for paying the down payment and closing costs, said Allan, who blogs about personal finance at FrugalBeautiful.com and now, after her experience, at Realestatewirefraud.com. You may be able to bring a paper certified check or cashier's check to the closing or an agent's office ahead of time, avoiding the possibility the funds end up in a fraudster's hands.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE VICTIMIZED
If you fall prey to one of these scams, you'll need to act immediately. The odds of recovering that stolen money aren't in your favor.
Money sent via a wire transfer is quickly moved electronically from your bank to the recipient bank, and then into the payee's account. You typically have only a tiny window for the banks to halt a transfer, or freeze the account before fast-moving thieves withdraw the funds. Once the money is out of that account, it's gone.
Even if you spot and report the fraud within 24 hours, you might not get your money back, said Barnacle.
"I don't want to set false expectations for consumers," he said. "The chance of recovery here is slim."
Because the consumer is the one to authorize the wire transfer, protections covering unauthorized financial transactions don't apply. The banks will work with you, but you may bear some or all of the liability for lost funds, depending on the details and extent of the crime, said Johnson.
Allan's almost immediate notice of the fraud was instrumental in recovering of her money because the bank was able to freeze the thief's account. In the end, she lost just $430 — including $70 in wire transfer fees. She's quick to point out she was extremely lucky.
"I feel like a magical unicorn, because this doesn't happen," she said.
Here's how to take action if you fall prey to a scam:
Alert the banks. "Immediately call your bank or financial institution," Johnson said. "They may still be able to call back the wire." Alert the bank on the receiving end of the wire transfer, too. They can often work with your bank to halt the transfer or freeze the recipient's account.
Call in law enforcement. File a local police report detailing what happened. Call your local FBI office and file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, too. "At the FBI level, we have briefed all of our 56 field offices and all of our resident agencies, and they are equipped to rapidly respond," Barnacle said.