Two Central Florida victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when buying and selling homes.
What’s worse, the U.S Secret Service said it happens all the time.
Central Florida’s red hot real estate market has a nasty downside: cyber thieves hi-jacking hundreds of thousands of dollars out of thin air.
One victim told News 6 by phone, crooks ripped him off for his life savings, $50,000 he was using as a down payment for a home.
Benjamin DeJesus was also a victim and said his first time selling a house quickly turned into a nightmare.
“It was really scary. It was a scary situation,” DeJesus said.
In July, DeJesus thought he had sold his Davenport home with no problems, but two weeks later he got an email from his mortgage company. The subject: a late fee has been assessed to your account.
“We still haven’t received this month’s mortgage payment,” the email read.
“I called my realtor and said is this normal?” DeJesus said. “She said, ‘No, it’s supposed to disappear [the mortgage] in days.’”
When DeJesus contacted the title company, they started an investigation.
“Two days later, I received a call from my mortgage company saying, ‘Hey, something bad happened. Your money got intercepted.’ That was scary,” DeJesus said.
Scary — but so common the Secret Service has a name for it, according to Special Agent In Charge, Caroline Obrien-Buster.
“B-E-C. Business email compromise,” Obrien-Buster said. “They’re very common. I would say we, here in this office, we get at least one or two a week.”
“Anywhere from $45,000 to $588,000 to $2.5 million. It’s the entire spectrum,” Obrien-Buster said.
In DeJesus’s case, it was $160,000 — which was the pay-off amount for his home.
Hackers swooped in and hijacked emails between DeJesus and the title company he used, according to Obrien-Buster.
Then the crooks spoofed an email with the wire instructions, changing the account number and the bank, so the money was sent to the criminal’s account, according to Obrien-Buster.
“Nobody picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, I’m just verifying, is this the account the money is being wired to?’Just that easy,” Obrien-Buster said.
The Secret Service took DeJesus’ laptop and processed it at their forensic lab and tracked down how the hack happened.
There are red flags you should look for, such as double-checking email addresses.
DeJesus’s real email address is @gmail.com. The spoofed email says at ymailn.com.
If you’re exchanging several emails with the same person, you may not pay attention, but you should.
If it happens to you, call the Secret Service immediately, Obrien-Buster said. And time is of the essence.
“If we’re given notice within 24 to 48 hours, we have a pretty good chance of getting the money back. Beyond that, that money is gone,” Obrien-Buster said.
In DeJesus’ case, the Secret Service followed the money which had been transferred from bank to bank and they got DeJesus’s money back.
“It was definitely a relief. like a weight got off my shoulders,” he said.