By: April Carson
The latest victims of a national real estate scheme known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) are a couple who recently relocated from Connecticut to Central Florida.
Last month, Aimee and Michael Ferla were scammed through email by someone pretending to be from their title company handling the closing of their home in De Leon Springs.
Aimee told News 6, "I sent the wire on Sept. 6, we signed all the closing documents on Sept. 7 and then Sept. 8 I was notified by the title company that the money was never received--$18,000 of my life savings, gone."
The suspects funneled the money into a bank account in Texas. Authorities are now trying to locate and apprehend them.
This type of wire fraud is on the rise, with scammers becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods.
If you are buying or selling a home, be sure to confirm all wiring instructions with your title company or real estate agent in person or by phone--never by email.
The Ferlas are not the only ones - data from the Global Investigative Operations Center show that real estate victims lost $5 million in Business Email Compose incidents last Friday alone. Stephen Dougherty, a financial investigator and financial analyst with the U.S. Secret Service, has been assigned to GIOC to track down fraud cases both in America and internationally.
Dougherty stated that the criminals gain a victim's trust by accessing crucial information via email chains and illicit websites. They then use this information to wire money out of the victim's account. This type of scam is not new, but has been on the rise in recent years as email chains have become more common in real estate transactions.
"It's very sophisticated," Dougherty said. "They're able to spoof email addresses, they're able to intercept wire transfers."
He said, "If you're not careful, scammers will find your email trail of 19-20 messages between you and your realtor or title company. Then they'll copy and paste all that so it looks authentic to try to trick you."
The Ferlas said that the people associated with the closing don't want to assist them in getting their money back.
This bank is currently looking into when exactly the Ferlas had requested a recall for the funds so they can see if issuing the lost money is something that's possible.
News 6 has obtained the Ferlas documents and email which have been sent to the Global Investigative Operations Center as well as CertifID in Michigan.
"These people are sick, they are truly sick because somebody that would do this to somebody that's older and trying to retire is just unbelievable," said Ferla. The couple is now working with an attorney in hopes of getting their money back.
Tom Cronkright, co-founder and executive chairman of CertifID explained to News 6 that with higher interest rates, home buyers will need to put down more cash for their properties. This puts "more cash at risk" for buyers in Florida as well as other states.
According to Cronkright, "This type of scam occurs when you have multiple parties in a transaction coordinating on either side."
In 2015, Cronkright lost $180,000 in a property closing to an international gang based in Nigeria after falling victim to a business email compromise.
“Fraud is unfortunately very common in real estate right now,” He said. “ You can find out who owns every piece of property fairly easily in the U.S., so it wouldn't be hard for a fraudster to get access to an email account they need."
Cronkright now advises people to never wire money to someone they don't know, no matter how official the transaction may seem.
"Most of these scammers are very sophisticated and have all the right verbiage," he said. "They're sending you fake emails that look like they're from your title company or from your real estate agent."
Cronkright advises people to always call the supposed sender of an email to verify its authenticity before taking any further action.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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