Email scams target real estate industry, intercept buyer closing money at last minute

by Connie Thompson / KOMO News|

Imagine scrimping and saving for a down payment to buy a home when a scammer swoops in and steals all that money right before you’re about to get the keys. Even worse, there’s little or nothing you can do to get your money back.

This scam is so big, even the FBI is sounding the alarm as more and more people get hit.

“It is devastating,” said Special Agent Ethan Via. “We’ve had people’s life savings wiped out. Their dreams of owning a home gone in an instant.”

Email hackers lurk online and track real estate transactions in what’s known as the Closing-Cost Scam.

When you’re in the final stages of buying property, you get email from people you’re already dealing with – or so you think – telling you where to send the money to close. But the location is a scammer’s account.

Serenity Isom and her young family lost $12,000 to the scam last February. Just days from closing the loan on their first home in South King County, they received email instructions telling them where to send the closing costs. The email even had the right closing date.

“We were finally gonna own our own home and we just fell for this stupid scam,” Isom told KOMO News in tears. “I just don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

In spring of 2016, Paul Strohmeier and his wife almost lost tens of thousands of dollars as well as the beach house of their dream in Island County. Strohmeier received last-minute instructions from what appeared to be his title company representative, telling him there’d been a change in where to wire the settlement money….

Home buyers say in all the chaos of buying a home, and with so much communication handled through email, it’s easy to get caught in the snare.


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