Scammers target real estate buyers through email schemes - KCTV5

Scammers target real estate buyers through email schemes

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Buying a home is the biggest purchase most Americans will make during their lifetime. (AP) Buying a home is the biggest purchase most Americans will make during their lifetime. (AP)
(CBS) -

Buying a home is the biggest purchase most Americans will make during their lifetime.

But now, hackers have figured out how to steal the down payment, leaving the buyer without a new home and often wiping out their life savings.

"The timing was impeccable, actually,” real estate agent Kristina Soloviena said.

Like most realtors, Soloviena emails clients all day long. But last year, unknown to her, "criminals" hacked her G-mail account, monitored the correspondence between her and her clients and waited for the perfect time to strike.

"It was time to send the remainder of the down payment to close escrow,” Soloviena said.

Using Soloviena’s email account, the hackers sent a message to one of her clients telling them to wire hundreds of thousands of dollars to a fraudulent account.

"It's creepy, being watched and knowing they've been reading all of our emails,” Soloviena said.

The National Association of Realtors along with the FBI are now issuing warnings about "sophisticated email scams targeting the real estate industry.”

"It's a nationwide phenomenon, unfortunately,” said Matt Fuller with the San Francisco Association of Realtors

And Fuller warns Realtors aren't the only ones being hacked.

"It can be the agent's email. It can be the title company. It can be a lender. It can be a transaction coordinator,” Fuller said.

The hacker's goal, he says, is to impersonate someone involved in the real estate transaction by sending emails from their account, instructing buyers to wire money -- usually just when the buyer is expecting to make a payment.

"They'd been watching us all along - and reading all of our correspondence,” Soloviena said.

Lucky for Soloviena’s clients they questioned the fake email because the amount requested was off by just a bit.

The Realtors Association and the FBI advise everyone buying or trying to buy real estate to verify any instructions they receive in an email and never wire money unless you are positive the instructions came from a reliable source.

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