Thieves stealing home down payments

Posted at 5:49 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 12:12:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- San Diegans spend years saving up enough cash for a down payment on a home, but now the FBI says fraudsters are getting much better at stealing it.

Hackers are getting into the emails of private real estate agents and escrow companies - duping would-be buyers into wiring their down payment cash to false accounts. They're also getting tipped off by celebratory Facebook photos about accepted offers, using clues like listing agent signs to get in touch with the buyers and pretend to be escrow companies - asking for payment. 

In all, the FBI says Americans lost nearly $1 billion in real estate wire fraud in fiscal 2017, up 50 fold from fiscal 2016. 

San Diego special agent Chris Christopherson says the FBI can reverse wire transfers if contacted quickly after they happen. He said internationally they have a day or two, and domestic about a week. 

He said San Diegans can protect themselves by verifying payment information they get by email either in person or by phone with a trusted source. 

"Make sure you're not using a phone number you got from the email, be skeptical, verify it separately," he said. 

The FBI said another way to help protect yourself is to never to reply to emails that ask for financial information. Instead, forward them to the recipient you know, typing in their address. 

San Diego realtor Gary Kent was selling a duplex last year when hackers got the buyer to wire a $10,000 down payment to a fraudulent account. They mimicked an email pretending to be from the escrow company.

"The buyer went down to the bank, said 'I need to wire the money,' and they said, this wasn't the same account number you did before," Kent said. 

Kent noted that the bank was able to reverse the transfer.