The dream of homeownership is increasingly being marred by the menace of real estate fraud, leaving many victims in dire straits. According to CertifID’s 2024 State of Wire Fraud report unveiled on Tuesday, an alarming 1 in 20 Americans involved in home buying or selling in the past three years has fallen prey to real estate fraud, with median financial losses surpassing $70,000 due to hijacked down payments and seller proceeds.

Fraudsters are honing their skills, exploiting public records, infiltrating real estate broker and title agency systems, and masquerading as transaction participants to deceive consumers. A case in point is Virginia’s Darryl Aldrich and his wife, who fell victim to a scam just days before finalizing their home purchase. Aldrich recounted to FOX Business how he was duped into wiring over $28,000 to a scammer, mistaking a fraudulent email for legitimate instructions from their title company.

This type of deception, known as business email compromise, has cost real estate transaction victims a staggering $446.1 million in 2022 alone, as per FBI data. Tyler Adams, co-founder and CEO of CertifID, emphasized the growing sophistication of these frauds, urging homebuyers to exercise utmost caution with every piece of communication received from real estate agents and title companies.

The survey by CertifID also revealed a concerning lack of awareness and education about real estate fraud risks among consumers, with 51% unaware of such scams before their transactions and 60% receiving minimal guidance from their agents, title agencies, or attorneys.

Aldrich’s ordeal, which fortunately saw his funds recovered thanks to the receiving bank’s vigilance, underscores the need for heightened awareness and preventive measures against these scams. He advocates for more robust safeguards, such as in-person wire verifications and alternatives to wire transfers, to protect consumers from such pervasive and sophisticated fraud schemes.