SCAM ALERT: Sophisticated hackers target home buyers

- With spring right around the corner – the real estate market usually heats up with people buying and selling homes. But FOX 46 Charlotte has a scam alert and it involves hackers trying to steal your dream home right from under you.

Cyber-crime costs businesses $400 billion a year. Anyone can be a victim, especially in real estate.

“There was a case here in town, there was a young couple that was about to close on their home. They wired in all of their funds. It was in the six figure range and those funds did not go where they were intended,” T.J. Larsen said, owner of mytownhome.com agency in Charlotte.

Larsen said that couple, likes dozens of others across the state, were victims of a sophisticated real estate scam.

“Typically what happens is they were monitoring a real estate agent’s account or an attorney’s email account and they’re looking for some email that might have the subject line in it wiring instructions,” Larsen said.

Here’s how the scam works – when it comes time to close on your new home you’ll get wiring instructions to send to a lawyer at closing but shortly after you’ll get another email from what looks like the same real estate firm or attorney changing the wiring instructions for you to send the money to a different account – and when you show up to closing.

“We ask where’s your money and then we find out that it didn’t go into our account. It went into a scammer’s account,” Attorney Ralph McMillan said.

It can be devastating.

“Well, they turn white and they’re really upset obviously because they would be…and then they find out there’s nothing they can do about it,” McMillan said.

McMillan said the money typically goes into some overseas account and it’s very tough to get it back. Banks have a very short window of hours, maybe minutes to stop the transaction.

“My recommendation is avoid wires if you can, and go with a certified check,” he said.

McMillan said anytime you’re talking money on the internet – use encrypted email.

“If you’re dealing with money and the internet, you better make sure you know who you’re dealing with and that you’ve got the right email address. If you don’t it’s just a prescription for trouble”

According to the FBI, the hackers are typically powerful organized crime syndicates from Europe out of reach from the long arm of United States law. 

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