I recently became victim to a complex real estate wire fraud scandal. I am writing this first of and foremost to get the word out there so no-one else follows in my footsteps. At the same time, if anyone has any suggestions of what I can do at this point please steer me a the right direction.
I live in the state of California and three weeks ago I was purchasing a home in the state of Georgia. According the law enforcement, my Real estate agents email (unsecured Gmail account) had been compromised prior to our escrow. During the closing period, a scam artist initiated contact with the closing Attorney and identified themselves as me.
Once they had created a communication thread with the closing they were then able to subsequently email me and act as if they were the closing attorney. They were able to appear very professional and answer all of the correct "lingo" because they were simply copy and pasting the words and acting as an "intermediary" back and forth. I therefore never had any "real" communication with the closing attorney because I was just replying to their initial email. The scam artist simply took everyones email address, and changed it by one letter.
When the closing attorney sent the wire instructions, they were manipulated and the checking and routing numbers were changed to a fraudulent account. Unfortunately, I lost a great deal of money on this scam. The FBI just let me know I have no chance of getting my money back due to the funds changing hands thru so many "mules" almost instantly.
At this point both my agent and closing attorney have been supportive, but take absolutely no fault in their actions. My agents email was the only one that was hacked, and the closing attorney was the first one who took the bait, and never had any real communication with me.
Please be warned of this scam and never do any important transactions with industry professionals who do not use a secured source communication. In addition, alway ensure you pick up the phone and repeat account numbers with closing attorney/title company. If anyone has ANY suggestions of what I can do civilly, etc, please contact me. I have talked with a few attorneys, but none of the have any experience with this type of fraud. Is it business malpractice, litigation, wire fraud, they all say this is beyond their "scope."
Be aware, and please help
Thanks for the story. Unfortunately, I think you are screwed. You had a responsibility of due diligence that would include independent confirmation of what you were receiving by e-mail. At a minimum, you should have considered having a local attorney attend the closing on your behalf and deliver a certified check in hand.
E-mail is great for getting things set up but I would never move any kind of money that way, and especially not from an e-mailed wire instruction sheet. Trust but verify.
I appreciate your input. I did hire a local attorney, who acts in position of a title company in the state of GA. This is someone that you pay to ensure a transaction goes smoothly, but in my case that wasnt the situation.
Believe me that due diligence was done by me. I even flew to the area during escrow to see it first hand, and meet my team face to face. This was a well educated criminal who fooled my attorney, and impressed the FBI with their scheme.
This has gotten to be quite a common. Due to the nature of these crimes and the fact that many times the money goes overseas, there is -0- chance of recovery. This is why everyone needs to phone the other party and verify wiring instructions. There are more and more victims everyday.
We have many title companies that will not accept cashiers checks due to the number of fraudulent checks. Some will ONLY accept wired funds. The crooks are always scheming to steal money any way possible.
I would like to know if your real estate agent had any malware protection on his computer, what level of operation system (windows 10 etc.) and what or when he found out his computer was hacked? What he was told to do to keep from getting hacked again. This will also help the next person from getting scam. What are the steps to get a secured g-mail account? Just trying to help the next person.
The agent did not know they were hacked untill after all the pieces were put together, after funds were transferred. A secure email can be had thru a private business server, above my level, but many title companies and banks use them for this exact reason. Also, many important documents should be shared on secured sites utilizing portals. I dont know internet security practices myself, but industry professionals need to safeguard their clients and themselves, especially since this fraudulent scam is gaining popularity.
I agree with @Bill Anderson here. Not to open a can of worms, but have you talked to your agent's E&O insurance? It sounds like he may be using a personal email on an unsecured, compromised machine/account.
Yes Bryan that is exactly what happened. I have not talked to their emmisions insurance. I believe agents dont have it, but their brokers do, along with the closing attorney. I did ask them if we could make a claim against their insurance, but they feel they are not at any fault, and I am the sole victim.
I believe my only other course of action is litigation. Trying to find someone with experience in this has been tough.
@Justin R. this is very common. Before you wire any money it's always best to call someone to verify. I am surprised your agent did not warn you about this scam at the start of the transaction.
Hope you are able to get things worked out.