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Hackers dupe woman into wiring them $400,000 after faking emails from title company

Real estate professionals and the FBI have a warning for home buyers and sellers: You will be targeted by thieves and hackers.

“My down payment was about $400,000,” a woman in the California Bay Area said.

The home buyer asked to remain anonymous, but she wanted us to share her story to make sure no one else suffers the same fate she did.

“I found similar stories are happening to people everywhere around the U.S.,” she said.

The home buyer lives in San Jose and she is close to retirement. She found a nice home she could afford that meets her needs better than her current residence. Once the seller accepted her offer, she prepared to make the $400,000 down payment.

Online thieves had other ideas. Scammers sent the buyer counterfeit emails, which appeared to come from both the real estate agent and the title company.

“They asked me to wire all the money instead of a cashier’s check,” she said. “He said the seller changed [the purchase agreement].”

She wired the $400,000, as instructed. Then, she went to the real title company for closing. Not long after came terrible news.

“Two hours later, the title company called me and said they didn’t receive the funds,” she said.

Desperate to stop the transaction, she raced to her bank, but it was too late. Her down payment and hopes of buying a new home were long gone.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “The [down payment] saving, it took me 10 years of my life.”

She’s not alone. The FBI says cyber-crime targeting home sales has exploded. The agency reports Americans lost $19 million to real estate wire fraud in 2016; a year later, the total skyrocketed to $969 million, a five-fold increase.

Put another way, that amounts to $2.65 million in real estate funds stolen from home buyers every day, some $110,000 per hour, every hour.

“One of the local county managers talked about getting almost 200,000 cyber-attacks a day on their servers,” David Walsh said. “There’s going to be roughly 410,000 [real estate] transactions this year, and my suspicion is all 410,000 are going to be targeted at some point, for some kind of wire fraud.”

The Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors said this is a huge problem and it’s growing rapidly.

The association said it’s even seen more realtors operate via fax-only to avoid potential hacking.

The association is currently advising their members to warn their customers about this vicious scheme.

“If you just simply trust the wiring systems, based upon getting a single call or a single email, there could be problems,” Walsh said.