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Hacked Homebuyers: Scammers Are Stealing People's Down Payments

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Buying a home can be one of the most exciting moments of your life.

But increasingly, con artists have been ruining the milestone by stealing down payments out from under a buyer's nose.

CBS2's Dana Tyler found just how shockingly simple the scam can be and how hacked homebuyers are falling victim.

It was Paul and Catherine LeBlanc's dream home. Within days of making an offer, the couple was under contract and working out the details of the sale.

"I bought a couple houses in my lifetime, so I'm experienced with doing that," Paul said.

So he was no stranger to receiving an email from the title company with instructions on where to wire transfer the down payment right before closing.

"Over $140,000," he said.

But what he didn't know was that scam artists were watching and reading all of his correspondence with the bank, his realtor, even his title company. They then posed as a known representative of the title company to send that email and ultimately steal his down payment.

Jason Walters, CEO of Paradigm – a different title company – says he sees several of these bogus emails a week.

"The whole real estate industry is under attack," he told Tyler. "They have the ability, as an email is floating out in internet space, they can intercept the language."

So they know exactly what stage the home sale is in and all of the players involved.

Allison Ziefert, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty, says homebuyers are losing a lot of money to this scam.

"It's very easy for these hackers to mimic your signature, even your patterns of speech," she said. "Once this money is gone, it's almost impossible to get it back."

"We're talking about buyers that are putting 5, 10, 20 percent or more down on a property," she added.

Bottom line, says Walters, question every interaction.

"Be vigilant," he said. "Make a phone call to a known number that you have, make sure the email that you got is a reality, because many times it might not be."

The LeBlanc family is now working with the authorities to get their money back.

Because of this scam, a number of title companies are going the old-fashioned route and asking homebuyers for certified checks on the day of the closing.


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