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CBS12 Investigates: New scheme to steal your life savings

Years of hard-earned savings gone in an instant.

It's happening to people in Palm Beach County and across the country.

Anyone with an email address can fall victim.

Thieves are hijacking email accounts and redirecting payments.

The email the victims are getting is expected, but where it’s ending up is anything but.

THE HACK

After years of searching, Paul LeBlanc and his wife Erika were finally ready to close on their dream lakefront home.

Little did they know, a hacker had infiltrated the email chain about the home purchase.

The hacker posed as the title company and emailed LeBlanc instructions on how to wire transfer their down payment.

LeBlanc was expecting an email to instruct him on how to wire his down payment.

It wasn't until the closing that he discovered their money was gone.

"Panic would be the first thing that came to my mind," said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc unknowingly transferred $142,000 into an account set up by the hacker.

WIDESPREAD PROBLEM

"It's a big problem," said FBI Special Agent Michael Kelly.

$3-Billion dollars big according to the FBI.

Victims range from deep-pocketed corporations to couples just getting started

"People need to know this scheme exists because if you don't know, you're going to fall for it," said Agent Kelly.

FBI Special Agent Michael Kelly showed us just how hard the scam is to detect.

Hackers get your email address, hack into your email, see what you are up to, create a fake email address from someone you trust and set the hook.

Often the hacker simply switches around two letters in the email address, for example, the “a” and the “e” in Michael.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Keller Williams Real Estate Broker Victoria Coyne has seen buyers in our area fall victim.

“The consumer must make sure they receive the wire instructions from the title closing company,” said Coyne. “It cannot come from the realtor, and that is where the hijacking is happening."

Coyne warns her clients prior to every closing.

The FBI recommends doing things the old fashioned way by picking up the phone or having a face-to-face conversation before signing off on any wire transfer.

The FBI said time is crucial in cases of wire transfer fraud. When alerted within three days, the FBI reports a 70 percent success rate of getting the money. That success drops significantly as the cash moves through a network of bank accounts.

If you are a victim, Kelly said to immediately contact your bank and submit a complaint through the FBI’s internet complaint system.

1. Make sure you are emailing with the title company.

2. Talk with the title company by phone to double-check.

3. Immediately check the wire transfer.

4. Contact the FBI within three days of any possible fraud.

5. File a complaint with the FBI.

LeBlanc and his family remain hopeful federal investigators will somehow track down the $142,000 stolen from them.

but with the lakefront property now back on the market, it seems the dream home will soon be gone for good.

“We were all fooled,” LeBlanc lamented. “The reality is these guys are good. They’re professional and this can happen to a lot of people.”


FOR MORE: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

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