Hackers targeting new home owners

Austin's hot housing market makes our area a target for hackers. (Photo: Pixabay)

Austin's hot housing market makes our area a target for hackers.

Cyber criminals are setting up fraudulent wire transfer instructions that look authentic, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in down payment money.

Paul LeBlanc and his wife Erica found their dream house. After years of searching and saving, a beautiful lakefront home was it. "Just walk right in, jump in the lake, kids play in the sand," Erica said.

The seller accepted their offer and in their minds they were already moved in enjoying a waterfront view. But their dreams sank when a hacker infiltrated the email chain about the home purchase. The hackers posed as employees from the bank and the title company and learned the address of the property, the exact day and time of the closing and provided legitimate looking wire transfer instructions.

"A scary level of detail," Paul said. "Absolutely."

Paul wired all the money to the numbers on the email and then three days later at closing his bank told him it never got the money. "Panic was the first thing that came to my mind," Paul said.

All of his down payment money was gone. "Over $140,000," Paul said.

Linda Ramsey is the compliance director at Keller Williams Realty and she says most of the time that money is just gone. "Unfortunately, they've gotten pretty good at that," Linda said.

She says the hackers integrate very personal details into the emails just before they ask for the money. "If mention that you walked your dog today just in a conversation they'll mention the dog later in another conversation," Linda said.

Everything seems legitimate, even down to the logos and letterhead.

Now Keller Williams warns clients about this scheme with a letter before closing. "In bold print, 'Do not comply with email instructions to wire funds,'" Linda said as she read the letter.

She says the first thing you should do is pick up the phone and call your local contact using the phone number you've dialed before. "And call the person who says they are contacting you and say, 'I just received this, did you request this information,'" Linda said.

She also says the title company typically sets up a password protected portal to set up the transaction. "A real estate agent would never have a reason to be asking for wiring instructions," Linda said.

The LeBlanc's dream home is now back on the market. Paul says he can only hope federal investigators can track down his stolen money and issues a warning to home buyers.

"We were all fooled," Paul said. "The reality is these guys are good and they're professional and this can happen to a lot of people."

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