New scam targets homebuyers

Lake Mary Police are investigating after $80,000, meant to close a real estate deal, vanished in an online transaction between a real estate agent and a mortgage broker.   Detectives say the money it went to hackers. 

“There was a compromise that had occurred and right now our investigators in the economic fraud division are working on getting to the bottom of that,” said public information officer Rebekah Matviak. 

The alleged hack, which was reported in late April, reflects a scheme that has real estate agents like Heather Unger of Lemon Tree Realty in Orlando on high alert. 

"It's quite widespread and it's a lot of money that's going through,” Unger said, noting that in some reported cases consumers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Detectives at the Orlando Police Department report at least two similar cases in the past six to eight months.  Each time, more than $200,000 meant for mortgage companies went to fraudsters, according to Detective Mike Stevens with the Economic Crimes Unit. 

"There are hundreds of thousands of transactions that go through on a monthly basis in central Florida.  And any one of those people could be a victim,” Unger said. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, hackers are targeting real estate agencies and mortgage companies, jumping into a transaction just before a sale goes through, and telling homebuyers to wire hundreds of thousands of dollars to bogus accounts. 

The American Land Title Association, a national trade association representing title insurance companies and real estate companies, warned last month about the wire fraud scheme.

Unger said the scheme is turning what should be a happy transactions into tragedy. 

"That [home buyer] is sitting there… with nothing! The home buyers are completely victims in this.  You have no money, no house, nowhere, potentially, for your family to live,” she said.

Expert advise home buyers to verify any written wiring instructions that they receive via email by calling their mortgage or title company. 

Experts also recommend that consumers select closing agents and mortgage companies that are properly insured against errors and cyber crimes.