A couple from Kansas City, Missouri, recently lost a massive $130,000 down payment in a money wire scam that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in real estate transactions.
The couple, Ross and Melinda Fulton, were trying to buy a home so that they could live closer to their daughters and grandchild in the Kansas City area. They told media they’d found just the home they were looking for in the town of Independence, Missouri, and had decided to pay for it with cash.
The Fultons were in the process of negotiating an offer on the home when they received an email from someone who purported to be their real estate agent. The message was signed with the agent’s name and sent from an iPhone, KSHB-41 Kansas City reported.
“Hello Ross and Melinda, In preparation for your closing on the 30th of November. The closing balance will be required to be wired 26th of November. I would like to know if you will be able to perform the wire on the 26th, so I can inform (actual title company's name).”
Melinda replied to the email, saying they’d bring their checkbook to make the payment when they met in person. However, the “agent” responded with the following message:
“Hello Melinda, Due to the increasing incidence of fraud with certified bank checks, we will require all funds needed for closing to be tendered in the form of a wire transfer. We no longer accept certified checks as good funds.”
The Fultons then wired the money to the account number provided, and as you can guess, the account didn’t belong to their actual agent, but rather, someone else. Those funds have now disappeared, and it seems the Fultons have little chance of getting them back.
“It looks as though someone had been monitoring our emails with our realtor, and at the important time entered in and gave us instructions for wiring money to a bank account representing the title agency and we followed those instructions with our bank and sent the money away,” Melinda told KSHB-41.
Melinda’s claims are backed by the fact that the scammer knew virtually all details of the transaction, including the address of the new home, the agent’s name and email address, the title company’s name and the closing date.
Paul Hentzen, the couple’s attorney, told KSHB-41 that real estate agents should have a duty to protect their clients from such scams. He said agents should warn all clients to verify any money wire requests via a personal phone call first. They should also check the email address used in transaction discussions very closely – in the Fulton’s case the email address used was only very slightly different from the real estate agent’s genuine address.