Orlando homebuyers lose $46,000 in title company impostor scheme

Lawsuit blames realtor's lax security protocol

ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando couple wired a  $46,000 down payment to a title company they thought was legitimate, but later learned it was really a spoofed IP address for hackers based in South Africa. The home buyes were given the bad information by their real estate agent.

“You see this stuff in the news and then it’s happening to you," Brian Bridges said. “It’s a gut punch.”

Bridges and his wife, Sandie, told News 6 they emailed their agent, Kelly Butterfield, of Remax 200, to get wiring instructions for the down payment on their new home never thinking she had sent a link through a hacked account.

According to attorney Moses Dewitt, of the Dewitt law firm, Butterfield forwarded email instructions from what she believed to be information from Orlando-based Title Team.

“Based on this scenario, we believe the real estate agent is accountable because she breached her own policy, which is a huge problem,” DeWitt said. “You know there’s a security problem yet you continue laissez-faire with your own conduct.”

News 6 found the real estate agreement clearly warns clients not to “wire any funds without personally speaking directly to the office that is closing the transaction.”

DeWitt said Butterfield never called to confirm the email was legitimate.

“She went ahead and emailed those wiring instructions  to our client,” Dewitt said. “So you have a policy and procedure in place but you are routinely not following it.”

News 6 attempted to get a comment from Butterfield but she never replied.

The couple have sued Butterfield and Remax-200.

Paul Bonus, the attorney representing Butterfield and Remax, declined to comment because the case is in litigation.

In a motion to dispute the claim, Bonus argues the warning clause in the contract releases Butterfield and Remax-200.

“They should protect us," Sandie Bridges said. “That’s a lot of money, a lot of savings.”

The real estate industry first became aware of hacked emails in 2015.

According to Orlando Regional Realtor President Jeffrey Fagan, reports of breached accounts have gone down since the security protocol measures were implemented, the attempts have not stopped.

“I’ve had realtors in a closing supposedly get a text from their client and the client is sitting as close to them as we are right now," he said.

Fagan said the best defense is to verify any instructions involving transfer of funds is to call.

“If it’s changing how money is moving," Fagan said. “The customer, the agent, the title company or anybody else should voice verify and make sure the phone number is legitimate."

For more information on real estate wire fraud security, click here.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.