Agent Alert - Smartphones and Your Escrow Account

Be Smart About Smartphones

If you're a crook and want to double your proceeds from a real estate transaction, "there's an app for that." 

Every day there is a new smartphone app that is designed to make your life easier, but at least one may be a problem for closing agents. Banks are now releasing smartphone applications that will allow their customers to complete the deposit of a paper check from anywhere using their smartphone. Just use the cell phone camera to take a picture of the front and back of the paper check, press a few buttons, and voilà! Your check has been deposited into your account. Watch this YouTube Video (may have an advertisement before the video) that shows you how this process works. However, convenience for the customer can spell trouble for closing offices that get duped by someone who receives a check as a result of a closing. The following scam occurred in Florida.

A couple left their closing with a check for their proceeds. A couple of hours later, they returned to the closing office with the check and asked for a wire transfer instead. The unsuspecting closer voided the check and processed the wire. Unfortunately, they had used their smartphone and deposited the check before returning it to the closing office.

Most closing agents would not even have issued a Stop Payment request to their bank because they would have felt secure with having their original check in hand. In this case, even if they had issued a Stop Payment request, it would have been ineffective because the check would have already cleared their account and the wire would have double funded the recipient!

Even normal, "positive pay" protections would not have caught this, as the original check had already been approved for payment. This new age scam could have been prevented by just refusing to wire the proceeds. Sometimes it pays to just say you are sorry but once a check is cut, you cannot change the method of payment.

While more and more banks are offering this service, most have imposed a limit on the amount of money that can be deposited via smartphone. But even a $1,000 loss is too much to absorb. Pass this on to all your staff and remain aware of new scams spawned by new technology.

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