A Washington, D.C., couple was scammed out of $1.5 million as they bought their dream house
The couple, both federal workers, decided to use an inheritance to buy a house in Cleveland Park.
They put down $200,000 and were waiting to go to closing when they got an email that seemed to be from their title company. They replied to the email to double check and got a reply, so they wired the remaining $1.5 million to the bank.
But when they went to sign the settlement papers, they learned they’d been scammed.
“When you have a young child and you move into your house for the first time and you close on that house, that should be a really special moment, not a moment when a massive amount of money is stolen from you, so the whole experience has been marred,” said the couple’s attorney, Michael Nadel.
It appears someone hacked into the computer servers of Federal Title and Escrow and sent the bogus emails. The FBI is investigating.
The couple was able to buy the home with what was left of their inheritance. They are suing the title company and others in hopes of recovering their money.
In a written statement, a spokesperson told News4, “Federal Title continues to work with the FBI as they complete their investigation. Federal Title’s internal review has revealed that no other customers were affected by this attack.”
A mortgage expert told News4 such scams are increasingly common. He said you should never wire money based on an email, even from a trusted source. You should call the company first, and don’t use the phone number on the email -- look it up yourself.
Stay aware of your communications. Be sure to check and double check the email address that you are communicating with. Hackers who use spoof email accounts will often switch around one or two letters of your Realtor's actual email address. If you aren’t paying close attention, you are likely to miss it!
Use a reputable title company. Your agent will most likely have title companies that they prefer to work with. It’s a smart idea to visit your title company in person. When you are ready to deposit your earnest money, physically bring that check into the title company. At that point, pick up a printed copy of your wiring instructions that you can always refer back to.
Understand your realtor’s means of communication. From day one you will want to be informed about how your realtor will be in contact with you throughout the real estate transaction. You will also want to know how other parties involved will be communicating with you. Be sure that sensitive information is never sent through email!
Telephone Verification. On the day of the wire transfer, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call the recipient to verify the wiring instructions. Use the phone number that you have been using throughout the entire process. You’ll most likely want to save the contact information of your realtor, the title company, and possibly an attorney the first time that you communicate with them.
This might seem like common sense, but always use strong passwords and ensure that your agent is doing the same. It also wouldn’t hurt to change your password a few times throughout the transaction process or before wiring instructions are sent.
You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting yourself, your investment and your future. Always make sure that you and your realtor are taking every precaution possible to ensure the secure handling of your real estate transaction.