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Woman Loses $35,000 Home Down Payment To Internet Hackers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Dalisay Penganiban has been saving for years to buy the perfect home for her and her children.

"You're talking every paycheck, put money aside," she said.

But after finding the perfect house and saving thousands for a down payment, she lost it all to internet hackers.

CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker found industry leaders are now proposing bold new steps to stop the scammers from stealing people's money.

Panganiban saved $35,000. When it was time to close on the condo, she was instructed, or so she thought, to wire the money.

There were a lot of emails going back and forth to the title company.

The email looked real.

But it wasn't.

The scammer used her attorney's name and email address and sent her wiring instructions to transfer her hard earned cash into the criminal's account.

"Because I trusted him, and I'm thinking this is the process so this is what I have to do," she said.

But when Panganiban got to the closing, her attorney asked for a check.

"I say, 'I wired it,' and he goes, 'What do you mean?'" she said. "And I showed him the email. And goes, 'I did not send you this.' At that moment I was very angry, in disbelief."

Panganiban eventually sued her attorney.

They settled the case, and she got most of her money. Three years later, she's still angry and wants to warn others.

"Reading online there's been so many victims who've lost even more than what I have," she said.

The numbers are staggering. Last year, 11,300 people became victims of wire transfer fraud, losing $149 million.

"It really is an epidemic," said Cynthia Blair, president of the American Land Title Association.

"Criminals have figured out that title companies are taking in and sending out millions and millions of dollars every day," she said.

So they're hacking the emails of everyone involved in the process: attorneys, buyers, sellers, title companies and realtors.

Because of the security issues, Blair says the association has talked to Congress.

The association wants a new federal law requiring banks to match the name on the account with the account number.

"So if they're sending money to my law firm, Blair Cato, that in fact the name is Blair Cato on the account, and we feel like that would be a big help," she said.

It might have helped Panganiban and could help others.

"Just make sure everything is legitimate," she said.

In the meantime, the association suggests consumers double check with attorneys and realtors before transferring money.

It will cost the banks money to verify wire transfers. A spokeswoman for the Illinois Bankers Association said the group is tracking the issue and discussing the proposal.

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