On Guard

Five tips to help you avoid a wire hack.

Cybercrime has been a major caveat to the modern conveniences of the internet. Cybercriminals are expected to steal approximately 33 billion records in 2023, according to a 2018 Juniper Research study. What makes those numbers even scarier? Cybercriminals are starting to take a more targeted approach to make more money, specifically by wire hacking.

“They are looking for high-value transactions, high net-worth families, and small businesses with a wealthy client base,” says Chris Vernon, partner at Naples-based Vernon Litigation Group.

Why them, and why now?

“The cybercriminal industry has become so commonplace that a lot of cybercrime, such as stealing identities, has become less valuable per theft,” Vernon says. “Now, criminals are looking for high-value opportunities.”

If you sound like a prime target for a wire hack, fear not. There are steps you can take to help keep yourself—and perhaps your clients—safe. 

Practice good cyber hygiene, or in other words, put protective policies in place both personally and professionally. A cyber expert can help you set company standards, but here’s an easy one to remember: Never click on anything you don’t know or are not expecting to receive.

“You may click on something and not even think about it, and [the cybercriminal] may have just installed malware,” Vernon says. “They may sit [on your computer system] for a long time, watching for the right transaction.”

Wire funds only when necessary. Before you wire money, ask yourself if there is a safer way to submit the sum, such as delivering a check in person. “If you can get the funds there in a safer way, why not do it,” Vernon says. It may be more of a hassle, but you’ll know right away that your load of cash ended up in the right hands.

Limit your email communication to necessary parties. It’s tempting to loop your lawyer or Realtor in on an email about your wire transfer, but if they are not part of the transaction then keep them out of the online discussion, Vernon says.

“Every time you add an email, you’re adding a new door to your protected building where your wire is going through,” Vernon says. “Every time you add a new door you increase the chance that someone is going to find an open one to get through.” It’s just the law of averages, he adds.

Know the big red flags. Is stealing someone’s money from behind a computer screen cowardly? Well, yes. Is the process well-organized? You bet. Here’s an example of a carefully planned wire attack: A cybercriminal sees you’re buying a new home. They’ll spoof their email and tell you your closing date has been sped up and your money needs to be wired sooner, to a new account. Then, they’ll send an email to the person who should receive the funds under a false address and say the closing date has been slowed down, so they’re not looking for the money right away. After that, the criminal waits to receive your cash directly in the bank account they told you to wire it to, and swiftly shuffles the sum out before anyone’s onto them.

It’s the perfect trap for an unsuspecting buyer, so you need to know what to look out for.

“If there’s a change in the closing date or where the money is supposed to be wired to, those are two big red flags,” Vernon says.

Verify changes by phone or in-person. If you spot a red flag, call the person who is meant to receive your money and ask them if any details for the wire transaction have changed. If they can’t confirm the changes, don’t follow the new instructions.