Real Estate Scams in Hawaii
Updated: Apr 6
Wire Fraud is Becoming Common. Buyers and Sellers need to exercise extreme caution when wiring funds in real estate transactions.
How it works: Hackers target email accounts of real estate brokers as well as other parties involved in real estate transactions, including mortgage brokers, closing attorneys, and title agents. In many cases, they have been able to intercept emailed wire transfer instructions, obtain account information and, by altering some of the data or use emails to redirect the funds to a different account. These emails are convincing and sophisticated and may look like legitimate emails from parties in the transaction.
What to do:
If you're on island, the surest way is to avoid wiring altogether. You can provide and/or receive funds in person at escrow.
Never wire funds without personally speaking with the intended recipient of the wire to confirm the routing number and account number--and most importantly, do not use phone numbers or weblinks from an email you received, as it could be a phishing email.
Verify that the contact information for the wire transfer recipient is legitimate. Buyer and Seller should each call using a phone number that has been independently obtained, not the phone number contained in the email containing the wiring instructions.
Never send personal information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card numbers, unless it is through secured/encrypted email or personal delivery to the intended recipient.
Take steps to secure the system you are using with your email account such as using strong passwords, secure WiFi, and/or two-step authentication.
If you suspect that you have been victimized by wire fraud, immediately contact the Honolulu FBI field office at 808-566-4300 or www.honolulu.fbi.gov. If you believe you have received questionable or suspicious wire transfer instructions, immediately notify your bank, the escrow agent, and your real estate professional immediately.
Be Wary of Rental Scams.
How it works: Scammers steal photos of listed property and post a fake rental ad on Craigslist. Typically the posted rental rate is really cheap and the scammer will often times request a security deposit from the prospective tenant without showing the unit. Other times, the scammer claims they can't meet you because they are out of town or they live elsewhere.
Never pay a deposit sight unseen! Be sure to view the interior of the property, meet the property manager or landlord. In addition, never hand over the security deposit until you have a signed rental lease first. If you suspect it's a scam, check to see if the property is listed for sale and contact the Listing Agent.
If you're looking for a rental, I suggest going directly to our Honolulu Board of Realtor's website: https://www.hicentral.com/forrent.php these are properties listed by Realtors and industry professionals.
Foreclosure Relief Scams.
How it works: When homeowners fall on hard times and a foreclosure is filed, it becomes public record and scammers reach out to homeowners in distress with a variety of foreclosure relief scams either promising fake foreclosure consultation in exchange for an upfront fee, often trying to transfer title to a third party, or promises to modify your loan faking a refinance for a cost. Often times they do not want you to contact your lender, when in fact, contacting your lender is an important step in working things out. And if you do want a housing counselor, be sure yours is HUD-approved. For more info, visit HUD's website: https://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/pages/default.aspx
The tactics scammers use are constantly changing. The Honolulu Police Department has a list of scams to be aware of. https://www.honolulupd.org/cyber-crimes/