It’s devastating, disastrous and can instantly wipe out your life savings.  The FBI admits it’s one of today’s fastest growing crimes. How does it happen and how can you protect yourself?  Hank investigates

Massachusetts Homeowner: “We had just gone from this moment of buying our dream home to what do we now?”

In the New England real estate market alone, the FBI says this financial disaster happens once every day.

The FBI has two words for it:

Christine O’Neill, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, FBI Boston Division: “It’s heartbreaking.”

Officials have two more words for it.

O’Neill: “Extremely devastating.”

It happened to This Massachusetts man, who wants to stay anonymous. He was thrilled when he signed the papers on his dream home, then took his family on vacation. That’s when his real estate agent’s email popped up on his phone, telling him to wire closing money, more than $280,000, to the closing attorney.”

Homeowner: “I got an email saying we want to close on time so here are the wire instructions, please send the money to this account, and please do it today, if not we might miss the closing.”

Problem was, the email was fake. He sent all that money to criminals.

Homeowner: “I just thought, I just lost our life savings.”

How did it happen? The thieves who stole his life savings are hacking computers of real estate agents and lawyers and buyers. They lurk in their inboxes, and take over home buying transactions at the exact moment there’s big money to be had.

The phony emails look like incredibly legit real names and real logos, but with email addresses just one letter off.

Attorney Kosta Ligris,  Ligris Law firm: “It’s very scary.”

This local real estate lawyer has now assigned an employee specifically to monitor email transactions.

Ligris: “We’ve had plenty of attempts here at the firm.”

The Lamacchia real estate agency now warns every client.

Anthony Lamacchia, Broker, Owner, REALTOR®, Lamacchia Realty: “Hey, we’re not gonna ask you to wire funds, if we ever did we would be speaking to you on the phone and making it clear that way because we don’t want to have this happen to one of our clients.”

This man instantly called the FBI, called his lawyer, called the bank. They issued what’s called a “SWIFT Recall.” That froze his stolen money before it left the country.

Homeowner: “I broke into tears, I couldn’t believe we were able to get it all back.”

But most endings are not so happy: FBI stats show in the last three years alone, these criminals duped buyers into sending 5.2 billion dollars. Five point two billion dollars.

Lamacchia “I think it’s crazy and I hope these people get caught and go to jail.”

There’s a simple way to avoid this: Talk to a real person. If you get an email requesting you wire money for a real estate deal—stop. Pick up the phone. And talk to your actual broker or attorney.

For more information from the FBI:

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