Sophisticated Email Scam Targets Bay Area Home Buyers

San Francisco Skyline Painted Ladies (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

An email scam is targeting home buyers looking to close on properties in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, causing those who fall prey to it to lose their life savings.

KPIX reports that the scam has taken hold of the Bay Area because of the high cost of homes in the area, the limited number of properties on the market, and the tendency of people in the area to close on a deal quickly so they do not lose out on a purchase.

One of the hackers’ most recent targets was realtor Kristina Solovieva, whose Gmail account was hacked by criminals so they could monitor her email conversations with clients and strike at the right time.

“The timing was impeccable, actually,” said Solovieva. “It was time to send the remainder of the down payment to close escrow.”

The hackers used Solovieva’s account to send a message to one of her clients requesting that the customer wire hundreds of thousands of dollars to a fake account.

Another home buyer lost $500,000 to a similar email scam that used her realtor’s account to send a message requesting that the money is wired to a fraudulent account.

“She was crushed. This was her life savings,” said Borden.

The scams have come to the attention of the National Association of Realtors and the FBI, which have both warned potential home buyers of the email scams plaguing the real estate industry.

The sophisticated email scams are not limited to realtors, either.

“It can be the agent’s email, it can be the title company, it can be a lender, it can be a transaction coordinator,” explained Matt Fuller of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. “It’s a nationwide phenomenon, unfortunately.”

Potential home buyers are advised to verify instructions regarding payment whether received through email, over the phone, or in person and are warned not to wire money without verifying that the request came from a trustworthy source.

These sophisticated email scams have been taking place in other parts of the country, too, in recent months.

In Minnesota, one couple closing on a house lost $200,000 to a sophisticated email scam targeting home buyers.

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