Florida man loses $15K to business email compromise in real estate scheme

‘Main actors’ operate overseas in $43B global industry, US Secret Service says

A Central Florida man trying to purchase land to build a small home in Port Charlotte lost more than $15,000 in the latest reported business email compromise.

John Gable told News 6 the bogus email was good enough to convince him to wire the down payment to the title company. But the title company never received the funds.

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“I don’t know where to put the blame,” Gable said. “I got confirmation that evening that they received the funds.”

What he missed was the subtle difference in the email address that carried the wiring instructions.

It came from a hotmail.com account, something the title company never used. The imposters included the bogus message in a string of legitimate email messages between Gable, the title company and the real estate agent.

“I’m sick all the time,” Gable said. “I can’t believe something like this can happen.”

According to federal law enforcement agencies, this scheme has reached “industrial” levels.

Caroline O’Brien-Buster, a special agent in charge of the Orlando Secret Service office, said she has seen imposters use everything from email messages to old-fashioned faxes to fool consumers and staff of title companies across the state.

The veteran secret service agent said her office is tracking business email compromises, or BECs, almost daily. To her, the convenience of smartphones, texts and email messages created the perfect setting for these email deceptions.

“You’re the only one who can ensure that the money is going where it is supposed to be going,” O’Brien-Buster said. “(The imposters) sit and wait. Their only job is to sit and wait for these transactions.”

By the end of 2022, the FBI reported more than $43 billion stolen from wire transactions directed by international imposters who targeted emails throughout 177 countries, including the U.S.

O’Brien-Buster told News 6 that anyone involved in real estate transactions needs to confirm they are dealing with legitimate professionals to avoid this kind of loss.

“A lot of times it happens, and they don’t even know that it happens,” O’Brien-Buster said. “I’d be going down there to make sure the (financial) wires got to where it needed to go.”

If you have been a victim of a business email compromise or bank account compromise, call your local Secret Service office.

For all internet crimes, you can file a complaint here.

You can also email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com or text the words “Make Ends Meet” along with your issue to 407-676-7428.

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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.