FOREST HILL, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – For many, nothing is as exciting or nerve-wracking as closing on a first house.
But The Ones For Justice found emails that looks legitimate could cost homebuyers everything, including their their new home.
Crooks are swooping in to steal homebuyers’ closing costs and down payments.
Gracie Veronica was set to close on a home in Forest Hill in August. But for now, the brand new house sits empty.
“I probably won’t be able to keep this house,” Veronica said.
Veronica has spent her life chasing the American Dream. After becoming a U.S. citizen, her next step was buying a home.
For ten years she worked two jobs, even opting to live with a roommate.
When Veronica finally saved enough for a down payment, she chose to buy a brand new home in Forest Hill. She loved choosing the finishes and color scheme.
“That was the biggest thing for me is the kitchen. I know it’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing for me,” Veronica said.
The day before her closing, Veronica received an email she thought came from her title company.
The sender knew her title officer, closing date and address.
So when the email instructed Veronica to wire the down payment and closing costs to a bank in Arlington, Veronica sent approximately $45,000.
“I never heard anything so I assumed they received their money,” Veronica said.
Someone received the money, but it wasn’t the title company.
With the click of a button, Veronica became a victim of wire fraud.
“It was an enormous amount of money and I worked so hard,” Veronica said. “For someone to just come in a matter of seconds and take away something I’ve been saving up for years.”
Dawn Moore, the CEO of Allegiance Title Company, said scammers will often spoof emails using information that’s readily available on the internet.
“It is very upsetting,” Moore said. “It’s upsetting to them because this is their savings, they’re putting this in the down payment of the home.”
“They may see a property address that’s listed on MLS or any other website and know that person is selling it and gathering information as they go as they see those addresses,” Veronica said.
Caught up in the excitement of a new home, some buyers may not even realize that email is a fake.
“If I have a ‘w’ in my name for ‘Dawn,’ they may put ‘D-A-v-v-n,’ and they think it’s from me,” Moore said.
To avoid getting spoofed, Moore suggests scanning emails for basic grammar and spelling mistakes.
Then, check to see if the word ‘i’ is capitalized.
“If the “I” is lowercase, if you are on an English-speaking computer, it will default. If it’s a foreign computer, it doesn’t,” Moore said.
With the funds gone, Veronica’s home purchase is in limbo.
“What am I going to do now?” Veronica said. “Am I going to have the strength to do it all over again after what happened to me?”
Experts said if a wire transfer is not intercepted in 24 hours, the money is probably gone.
Never forward encrypted messages from your title company to another party.
The safest thing to do is to make payments through a company portal, offered by the title company.
Anyone who receives a questionable email should call their title company.
Friends and family are now trying to help Veronica raise enough money for another down payment via GoFundMe.
Veronica was a client of Ebby Halliday Companies. Chris Kelly, the president and CEO, issued the following statement:
“As part of HomeServices of America and Berkshire Hathaway, the Ebby Halliday Companies have been leading the way in educating clients on the risks associated with wire fraud. All of our real estate services have implemented the latest technologies and practices to minimize the risk of financial loss for those we work with. However, hackers can still infiltrate a client’s email or third-party email accounts that are outside our control in an effort to intercept funds wired as part of a real estate transaction. In order to completely eradicate this type of fraud, continued education of buyers and sellers is critical to ensure they understand to never trust any wire-transfer instructions that are delivered via email. In those instances, they should always immediately contact their real estate agent, who can help verify and validate by working directly with the title company handling the closing.”