Category Archives: News

Hackers scam homebuyers out of millions — and it’s getting worse

WASHINGTON — In this year of horrendous cyberheists — Equifax the most prominent — you’ve probably taken at least a few precautions: changed passwords, stopped opening files and links from unknown senders, upgraded your computer security measures, maybe put a freeze on your credit reports.

But if you’re buying a house and heading to settlement, you could still be far more vulnerable than you think to the fastest-growing form of real estate cybercrime in the U.S.: thefts of home-purchase money wired to complete closing transactions. The scam generally works like this: Hackers find an opening into a title company’s or realty agent’s email account, track upcoming home purchases scheduled for settlements — the pricier the better — then assume the identity of the title agency person handling the transaction.

Days or sometimes weeks before the settlement, the scammer poses as the title or escrow agent whose email accounts they’ve hijacked and instructs the homebuyer to wire the funds needed to close — often hundreds of thousands of dollars, but sometimes far more — to the criminals’ own bank accounts, not the title or escrow company’s legitimate accounts. The criminals then withdraw the money and vanish.

According to new data provided for this column by the FBI, in fiscal year 2017, nearly $1 billion ($969 million) was “diverted or attempted to be diverted” from real estate purchase transactions, and wired to “criminally controlled” accounts. That figure is up explosively from fiscal 2016, when the FBI counted $19 million in wire transfer frauds affecting homebuyers. The bureau describes the current growth rate of this type of theft as “steep,” though the sharp statistical rise may be partially attributable to increased reporting of such hacks by consumers, banks and real estate industry participants. It’s also shocking and devastating to the homebuyers involved. Consider two recent cases involving substantial losses.

In May, a Washington, D.C., couple lost $1.57 million when their wire transfer of settlement funds was hijacked after cyberthieves reportedly penetrated a title and escrow company’s email system and steered the money to their own account.

In January, a Denver couple signed a contract to buy a $504,000 new home. They had sold their previous house and planned to use the $272,536 in proceeds as a down payment. Somewhere along the path to the scheduled closing in April, criminal hackers gained access to the email system of the title company, realty agent or mortgage company — no one seems to know which. The couple received genuine-looking email instructions on wiring the down payment cash in preparation for the settlement. But the instructions were bogus and the money disappeared. Nothing has been recovered.

Though cyberthefts involving home settlements have been occurring for several years, the number of attacks and the dollar amounts stolen during the past year are stunning realty industry experts, who expected that greater public awareness of the problem — and efforts by title and realty firms to better secure their systems — would thwart the hackers.

“It’s unbelievable how often this is happening,” said Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel for the National Association of Realtors in Chicago. And now real estate clients who’ve been scammed are fighting back, seeking recovery of funds through the courts and turning to an FBI weapon that has been little known to the general public: the “Financial Fraud Kill Chain.”

The bureau says that it may be able to stop the transfer and recover consumers’ funds if the wire transfer amount is $50,000 or more, the bank transfer is sent internationally, the bank issues a recall notice and the FBI is informed of the details within 72 hours. In the case of the Denver couple, lawyer Ian T. Hicks is suing the title agency, real estate agent and mortgage lender on behalf of the Denver home purchasers for negligence and other alleged misdeeds. He is also suing the bank that transferred the money for not reporting the fraud to the FBI quickly enough to initiate a Kill Chain effort to get back the money.

So what does this surge in real estate wire fraud mean to you? If you plan to go to settlement on a house, be on alert. Red flag any closing or wiring instructions sent to you via email, especially if they involve last-minute changes to previous instructions. Verify by phone or in person with settlement personnel that they sent the instructions and that they are correct. If you are victimized, call the local field office of the FBI immediately and visit www.ic3.gov, the bureau’s internet complaint center.

Credit: Kenneth R. Harney, Chicago Tribune

Leominster Office voted Best Bank in Leominster!

We’re thrilled our Leominster Office was voted Best Bank in Leominster by Market Surveys of America! Thank you for this recognition. Everything we do is powered by our commitment to community, customers and employees. Without you, there would be no us. Thank you for allowing us to serve you!

bankHometown donates second installment of $5,000 to the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation

OXFORD – Michael D. Hewitt, President and CEO of bankHometown, presented a check for $5,000 to the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) on May 31, 2018. This donation is the second installment of a three year commitment to the corporation, resulting in a total donation amount to be $15,000.

The NCMDC is the principle resource for the region in terms of economic development, lending and financing, and implementing a multi-faceted regional economic development strategy to enhance economic development services while expanding lending capacity to accommodate the region’s unique industry mix. The Council’s mission is to plan and implement programs to create jobs and increase economic opportunity in the region.

“Hometown Bank is proud to support the important work being done at the NCMDC for small businesses. Our area is so fortunate to have these free resources and we continually encourage small businesses to take advantage,” said Christina DiRusso, Vice President of Commercial Lending at bankHometown.

The NCMDC is staffed by experienced professionals with extensive backgrounds in economic development, banking and finance, and government affairs. It also provides businesses with resources such as a real estate site finder, which provides information, tools and technical support to establish, grow, and expand their business in North Central Massachusetts.

bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 with offices in Massachusetts (Athol, Auburn, Leominster, Oxford, Lancaster, Sturbridge and Webster) and Connecticut (Putnam, Brooklyn, Killingly, Thompson and Woodstock).  Depositors of bankHometown have their deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for amounts up to $250,000 with amounts in excess of $250,000 insured in full by the Share Insurance Fund, a private excess insurer.

 

Pictured (L to R): Roy Nascimento, President and CEO, NCMDC ; Donna Daigle, AVP/Branch Manager, bankHometown; Christina DiRusso, VP Commercial Lending, bankHometown; Norman Vigeant, VP Lending, NCMDC ; Sandie Cataldo, Economic Development Manager, NCMDC; and Michael D. Hewitt, President and CEO, bankHometown.

bankHometown presents a check for $3,500 to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster (BGCFL) as a lead sponsor

OXFORD – bankHometown presented a check for $3,500 to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster (BGCFL) as a lead sponsor for their 9th Annual Great Futures 5k Run & Walk taking place on Sunday, June 10th, at 365 Lindell Avenue, Leominster MA. This donation is the second installment of a three year commitment to the club, resulting in a total donation amount to be $10,500.

The 5k Run & Walk raises funds to benefit the BGCFL, which provides 600+ young people with a positive place to learn, explore, and play after school. The club is a place where kids build character and self-esteem, are engaged in learning, encouraged to succeed in school, and develop the skills to become lifelong learners.

“bankHometown is excited to be at this event on Sunday to support the Boys and Girls Club.  Anytime we can be at this facility we get a great feeling of hope and inspiration for our area youth!” said Christina DiRusso, Vice President of Commercial Lending at bankHometown.

The mission of the BGCFL is “To inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.”

bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 with offices in Massachusetts (Athol, Auburn, Leominster, Oxford, Lancaster, Sturbridge and Webster) and Connecticut (Putnam, Brooklyn, Killingly, Thompson and Woodstock).  Depositors of bankHometown have their deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for amounts up to $250,000 with amounts in excess of $250,000 insured in full by the Share Insurance Fund, a private excess insurer.

bankHometown Community Foundation Contributes $10,000 to Worcester Community Housing Resources

Oxford, Massachusetts –

Michael D. Hewitt, President of Hometown Bank Community Foundation, Inc., announced today that a contribution in the amount of $10,000 was presented to Worcester Community Housing Resources (“WCHR”) on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018.

WCHR is a not-for-profit organization providing services to low-income residents and communities throughout Worcester County.  Their initiatives assist low-income, underserved populations by providing high quality, affordable housing options that meet the resident’s specific needs.  Whether it’s home ownership, family apartments, elderly assisted-living or single furnished rooms, WCHR develops, owns and operates them.

In addition, WCHR works as a Community Development Financial Institution, where their Community Loan Fund provides financing for homeowners who are not eligible for a loan through other financial institutions.  The organization also works with private and public partners to develop home ownership and rental housing in key neighborhood locations.

The funds provided by Hometown Bank Community Foundation will be used for direct service costs to acquire and renovate an eleven-bedroom home that will house a program for teen mothers and their children.  The funds will also help with the development of the property, which will include office space for the 24-hour staff, common kitchen and living areas, parking and outdoor green space for the children to play.

Michael Hewitt said “The WCHR is providing a valuable service to those in need, and we are very happy to make a supporting contribution.  As a community bank we strive to support the communities we serve.”

Hometown Bank Community Foundation, Inc. was formed in early 2016 by bankHometown, a state-chartered cooperative bank headquartered in Oxford, Massachusetts with $750 million in assets.

bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 with offices in Massachusetts (Athol, Auburn, Leominster, Oxford, Lancaster, Sturbridge and Webster) and Connecticut (Putnam, Brooklyn, Killingly, Thompson and Woodstock).  Depositors of bankHometown have their deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for amounts up to $250,000 with amounts in excess of $250,000 insured in full by the Share Insurance Fund, a private excess insurer.

 

Spring Community Shredding Days Announced!

InfoShred® Document Destruction will provide on-site shredding of personal, confidential paper documents on the spot.

Bring up to the equivalent of one or two copy-paper/file-sized boxes of documents.

There is no charge.

The following locations will be holding Community Shredding Days from 9 AM – Noon:

May 5th: Putnam Office |182 Main Street, Putnam, CT

May 12th: Athol Office | 90 Exchange Street, Athol, MA

June 2nd: Lancaster Office | 131 Main Street, Lancaster, MA

June 9th: Sturbridge Office | 331 Main Street, Sturbridge, MA

bankHometown Contributes $12,800 to Local United Way Chapters

OXFORD, MA:  Michael Hewitt, President and CEO of bankHometown, announced the bank has raised $12,800 during their Annual Giving Campaign benefiting three local chapters of the United Way.

Chapters of United Way are vital links between local non-profit organizations and the residents who live in those towns to ensure better lives for those less fortunate in our communities.  These funds have been exclusively raised by bankHometown employees over the past year.

bankHometown employees, throughout their 13 branches and Operations Center, have been participating in this bank wide Annual Giving Campaign for more than 30 years.  In addition to their monetary support, employees volunteer at a variety of events with the United Way and their partner organizations, including a bank-wide “Day of Caring” held each September.

The chapters that benefited from this year’s campaign are:
United Way of Webster and Dudley, Massachusetts
United Way of Southbridge, Sturbridge and Charlton, Massachusetts
United Way of North Central Massachusetts

Tina Puza, Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager at bankHometown’s Auburn Office, coordinated this year’s successful campaign for the bank.  She said, “I am so thankful for all bankHometown employees that have either made donations or have volunteered their time for United Way this year. The resources and dedication that the United Way provides to our communities are invaluable and we thank them for all that they do on a daily basis. I truly feel that together we are helping those in need and making a positive difference in our communities.”

bankHometown is headquartered in Oxford, Massachusetts and has $730 million in assets.  bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 and operates thirteen full service offices; eight in central Massachusetts and five located in northeastern Connecticut.

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Hometown Bank Community Foundation Donates $6,000 to Sponsor Day Kimball Healthcare Junior Volunteer Program

OXFORD, MA – Michael Hewitt, President of Hometown Bank Community Foundation announced a contribution of $6,000 in support of Day Kimball Healthcare’s (DKH) 2018 Junior Volunteer Program at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT.

The sponsorship funds will support Day Kimball’s highly-competitive Junior Volunteer Program, available to just 60 area high school students for seven weeks during the summer months. Junior volunteers have the opportunity to gain valuable insight into a possible future career in healthcare while also providing valuable service to the community. Junior volunteers contributed 3,790 hours of volunteer service across 11 departments at Day Kimball Hospital last summer.

”This is a great opportunity to support Day Kimball and a program that will have ongoing impact on our community by instilling the value of volunteerism in the students.  Volunteering in the communities we live and work is a cornerstone of our culture and mission and we are pleased to support the sharing of this value with the future leaders of our communities,” said bankHometown President and CEO Michael D. Hewitt.

“We are extremely grateful for this opportunity and excited to be partnering with bankHometown in support of one of the hospital’s most valuable and long-standing community service programs,” said DKH Director of Development Kristen Willis. “It has become increasingly challenging to provide adequate resources for important programs such as this while fulfilling our primary duty and responsibility to provide high quality acute, clinical, and emergent care to our patients. Having bankHometown’s support for this program will help us to continue to enrich lives while preparing the future workforce and citizens of northeast Connecticut.”

“Being a hospital volunteer adds a whole new dimension to a student’s life, allowing them to gain valuable experience while helping to serve their communities,” said Janet Johnson, DKH Volunteer Services Coordinator, who has been heading up the Junior Volunteer Program for the past 15 years. “We’re so grateful to bankHometown and the Hometown Bank Community Foundation for supporting our Junior Volunteer Program. The impact that volunteer service has, not only on the continued success of the hospital but on the lives of our young volunteers, is immeasurable.”

bankHometown is headquartered in Oxford, Massachusetts and has $730 million in assets.  bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 and operates thirteen full service offices; eight in central Massachusetts and five located in northeastern Connecticut.

Hometown Bank Community Foundation Contributes $5,000 to NewVue Communities

Oxford, Massachusetts – Michael D. Hewitt, President of Hometown Bank Community Foundation, Inc., announced today that a contribution in the amount of $5,000 was presented to NewVue Communities, formerly known as Twin Cities CDC.

NewVue Communities is a non-profit organization, located in Fitchburg, MA, that serves 22 communities in central Massachusetts.  Since its founding in 1979, NewVue Communities has endeavored to improve local communities and the lives of their residents, regardless of their background.  The contribution from Hometown Bank Community Foundation helps to support the various programs and services provided by NewVue Communities, including affordable housing, financial literacy, education and foreclosure prevention.  It also helps with small business technical assistance for the creation and retention of jobs.  Marc Dohan, Executive Director of NewVue Communities, stated that NewVue Communities “envisions healthy neighborhoods where residents choose to live, work and invest.”

Hometown Bank Community Foundation, Inc. was formed in early 2016 by bankHometown, a state-chartered cooperative bank headquartered in Oxford, Massachusetts with $730 million in assets.  Christina DiRusso, assistant vice president of commercial lending for bankHometown, serves on the board of NewVue Communities.  In addition, a number of bankHometown employees also serve as speakers at NewVue’s first-time homebuyer seminars.

bankHometown has served its communities since 1889 and operates thirteen full service branch offices; eight located in central Massachusetts and five located in northeastern Connecticut.  Depositors of bankHometown have their deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for amounts up to $250,000 with amounts in excess of $250,000 insured in full by the Share Insurance Fund, a private excess insurer.