Central Florida woman loses $61,000 in wire transfer

Cyber expert says wire fraud is easier than robbing bank and more lucrative

ORLANDO, Fla. – A local woman is suing two banks because she lost tens of thousands of dollars during a wire transfer.

Wire transfers are something people most typically do when buying a house. It is often the only way lenders will accept down payments.

Yellu Sanchez said she learned after doing a transfer there really aren't any mechanisms in place to protect consumers.

"I'm still in denial that something so horrible could happen," she said. "The main reason I wanted to buy the house was to take care of mom."

When Sanchez saw her mother's cancer take a turn for the worse last spring, she decided to buy the house next door to be closer and help take care of her. It was a tender gesture of altruism that she says was the beginning of a nightmare.

Sanchez made an offer on a three bedroom, two-and-half bath home. When it was time to close, she emailed her attorney for the wire instructions, where she would send her $61,000 down payment. However, her attorney never received the money.

"I remember I started shaking, I was very nervous. Where is the money? That’s when everything started," she said.

She and her attorney believe her email was hacked.

Her attorney sent the wire instructions, but the email was intercepted and what she received was very similar.

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It had the same company letterhead, but the bank routing number, the beneficiary and account numbers had all been changed.

The funds should have gone to Bank of America in Orlando, but instead it went to a JP Morgan Chase Bank branch in Houston.

Sanchez said both banks "were no help at all" in figuring out what went wrong.

Sanchez's attorney Jaimon Perry was hoping one of the banks would return the money.

"The fraud was just so incredible," he said.

They are now suing McCoy Federal Credit Union, where Sanchez has banked for years and tried to send the wire, and JP Morgan Chase Bank -- both for negligence.

"A fraud was committed against her so there should be protections in place to allow for the money to be returned," Perry told News 6.

According to the lawsuit, the branch manager at McCoy questioned the beneficiary name on the wire instructions, and had Sanchez call Perry to verify it. The beneficiary should have been the Perry Law Group; instead it was Benchmark Commercial Capital Group.

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That mistake was caught and changed, but the manager "did not question the account number or aba routing number," according to the lawsuit.

The suit goes on to say Chase "allowed the wire transfer to be sent to a fraudulent Chase account."

"There’s tons and tons of transactions happening every day. Why are we not protected?" Sanchez asked.

Andrew Von Ramin Mapp is the owner of Data Analyzers, a professional hacker that teaches companies how to protect their networks. He said wire transfer hacks are easier than robbing a bank and much more lucrative.

"And there's much less risk of getting caught," he said. "It's simple to do that and it is a common tactic that we certainly have seen before. The real estate sector is being targeted." 

Trevor J. Buxton CFE, a fraud expert with PNC Bank, called what happened to Sanchez a business email compromise, where a company email address is taken over or spoofed for fraudulent use.

The email with the fraudulent wire instructions came from an email address that looked very similar to Sanchez's attorney's email address, but instead of .com the end was .corn.

"If an email shows the sender as a person or business' proper name, hover the mouse over the sender's name to view the underlying email address," Buxton told News 6 in an email. "Inspect the address for signs of spoofing."

Those who receive a suspected BEC attempt can report it to the FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center at ic3.gov, Buxton wrote.

McCoy Federal Credit Union released a statement to News 6, which ironically was encrypted and required a code to access it.

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"McCoy takes all allegations of fraud seriously, and we investigate such allegations promptly and thoroughly as required by law," the statement reads. "Equally important, McCoy respects its members' privacy and federal and Florida privacy laws prohibit us from commenting about member transactions or accounts."

A spokesperson for Chase told News 6 they are "cooperating with the law enforcement investigation."

In the meantime, Sanchez is still out of the $61,000. The owner allowed her to close on the home, with the understanding she would pay the $61,000 in 90 days. She says she has no idea how she will do it because the money was her life savings.

"I think both banks should do something about it. They owe it to me and they owe it to every other person that trusts them as banks," she said.

As all of this was happening, Sanchez's mother passed away from cancer.

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