Hackers target local homebuyers in wire fraud scam

Hackers are targeting local homebuyers, trying to trick them out of tens of thousands of dollars.

It just happened to Ponte Vedra homebuyer Jay Foard on Friday.

Foard is trying to close on a condo in Palencia.

“We could have been out $20,000, very easily,” said Foard.

Last week, Foard got an email from someone claiming to be a broker.

It had the property address of the condo in the subject line and included wire instructions.

“The next day, [I] got a note from the bank saying that they found out that – it was actually stopped because they found out the company it was going to was not a closing company. It was a limo service out of Nashville, Tennessee. And it was a fraud,” said Foard.

According to Foard’s bank, Wells Fargo, scammers tried to divert nearly $1 billion from American real estate transactions by wiring them to fraudulent accounts last year.

The scammers are hacking into title companies’ and realtors’ email accounts, then searching for upcoming closings.

Then the hacker creates a fake email address impersonating a broker and tells the homebuyer to wire their money to a fraudulent account.

“Over the past year, I would say we’ve probably had five to 10 where we have caught them in the early stages,” said Jacksonville Vanguard Title & Escrow General Manager Angela Huggins.

Huggins said the scam is so widespread, her company has changed its protocol when homebuyers wire money.

“We will leave portions of the accounts out and they have to call and get that full account information from us only by phone,” said Huggins.

That is so homebuyers like Foard don’t wire their life savings to a scammer.