A Look at the Lighter Side of Real Estate
Wire Fraud Edition
By David Parker
Other than the fact that it was 7:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in the middle of February, it seemed like a routine phone call. “Grandma?” the caller said. “Joey?” responded Grandma Sue. “Yes, Grandma, it’s me, Joey,” said the caller. And the Grandma Scam was on. Somewhat dazed by the early 7:00 in the morning call, Grandma Sue instinctively asked if everything was OK. At this point, the story gets a bit mystifying, but somewhere in the explanation was something about a road trip to Vegas, Grandson Joey getting arrested, his wallet being stolen and a desperate need for cash so that Grandson Joey could be set free on bail and purchase a plane ticket to fly home. To New York. Where he was a college freshman. Which leads to some incredibly obvious questions such as: How did Grandson Joey take a road trip to Vegas on a Wednesday in February when he was in the middle of his freshman year of college in New York? Or perhaps: Why was Grandson Joey calling his Grandma for bail money, and not his Mom and Dad?
I tell you this story because it is real. And it gets worse. Grandma Sue was instructed to go to a store and buy Visa gift cards. She was then instructed to call back the number where Grandson Joey was being held in “prison” so that the gift cards could be used for bail. So Grandma Sue went to the local Safeway to buy the gift cards, but she could not find them. She asked a cashier for help, which led to a discussion as to why she needed $5,000 in gift cards, which led to a look of shock and disbelief on the part of the cashier and thankfully led to the end of the Grandma Scam. For the most part. Because Grandma Sue still felt the need to call Grandson Joey’s Mom, who also seemed to fall for the Grandma Scam, and Joey’s Mom then tried to reach Joey who wasn’t answering his phone because it was now 8:00 a.m. on a cold Wednesday morning in New York and Joey was sleeping in. Because he was probably hung over, or tired from staying up all night studying, or maybe just sleeping in because that is what college freshmen do. And thus, the Grandma Scam became the Daughter in Law Scam until the Daughter in Law finally reached her son who, as it turns out, wasn’t answering his phone because he didn’t really want to talk to his Mom at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. Or at noon.
I am sure that many of you are wondering what this story about the Grandma Scam could possibly have to do with a real estate transaction and if you are, then that is the reason why I am telling you about the Grandma Scam. Because the Grandma Scam is just one step away from the I’m Ignoring All of the Warnings About Wire Fraud Scam that has infected our industry. Every settlement attorney, every real estate agent, every loan officer and even the local plumber has inserted a warning on their e-mail signature line, or their letter head, or their website imploring buyers and sellers NOT TO TRUST ANY WIRE INSTRUCTIONS THAT THEY RECEIVE VIA E-MAIL. For those of you who may have missed it, we are experiencing a bit of a problem wherein the fraudsters, who I am fairly certain are the same people who called Grandma Sue, or perhaps they are the Finance Minister of a faraway country, are sending phony wire instructions to Buyers who are then wiring their life savings to a small bank in the Cayman Islands because that seems like a logical place for a Maryland title company to do their banking.
Many of you loyal readers know that I always end the column with some strange twist or magical piece of advice or valuable learning tool that will help to make you a better Realtor. And thus, I offer you this final thought. Share this column with all of your buyers and sellers so that they understand that they should always call a trusted phone number to make sure that the wire instructions that they received are indeed correct and that their life savings are not going to be sent to the Cayman Islands. And when your buyers and sellers make the call to their settlement attorney, you might want to suggest that they try not to call at 7:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.
David Parker is an attorney and the President of Village Settlements, Inc. His columns have appeared regularly in local newspapers, magazines and newsletters. He is the co-author of the book, “Real Estate Practice in DC, Maryland and Virginia.” This column, Property Lines, will take a look at the lighter side of real estate transactions. Readers are encouraged to contact him with topics that they would like to see discussed. He can be reached at