2017-07-07 / Front Page

Con artists use email to swindle homebuyers

By Caitlin Trude


DON’T GET ROBBED—Police say those in the midst of buying a home should contact their Realtor in person or over the phone to make sure the wiring instructions and account numbers are valid. DON’T GET ROBBED—Police say those in the midst of buying a home should contact their Realtor in person or over the phone to make sure the wiring instructions and account numbers are valid. Buying or refinancing a house is always a complicated endeavor, but add in a scam that targets homebuyers, and the process can turn into a nightmare.

That’s why law enforcement officials are warning Moorpark residents to be wary of a mortgage loan scam that preys on the email accounts of Realtors and escrow companies.

In the scam, a con artist will hack into an agent or escrow officer’s email account to monitor their correspondence with a homebuyer. The scammer will then create an email account identical to the Realtor’s by using similar logos and signatures.

Around the time a homebuyer expects to receive instructions on wiring closing costs or down payments, police say, the scammer will email their victim instructions on wiring money to an account that belongs to the con artist rather than the intended Realtor or escrow officer.

Amy Garcia, an investigator with the Moorpark Police Department, said once the money is wired, it’s nearly impossible to recover.

“When it comes to any type of money transaction, know who you’re dealing with,” she said. “Know who you’re sending it to, and if something doesn’t seem right . . . we’re always willing to talk with people (about that). Don’t believe what you see on these emails and such because anything in email form can be counterfeit, and you don’t know who you’re really talking to over the internet.”

To ensure residents don’t buy into this scam, police said they should contact their Realtor in person or over the phone to make sure the wiring instructions and account numbers are valid.

Residents who do send financial information over the internet should ensure their computer’s security software is up to date.

They should also think twice before opening files and attachments sent in an email. Homebuyers are urged to look for a URL that begins with “https,” as the “s” stands for “secure.” Rather than clicking on a link attached in an email, they should go to an organization’s site, find the URL and manually type the website into a search engine address.

Though Garcia has seen reports of this particular scam in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard, she’s yet to see any mortgage loan cons in the Moorpark area.

“It kind of just resurfaced fairly recently,” the investigator said. “We’re doing what we can to keep people from being victimized.”

If a scam is suspected, residents are urged to call a Moorpark Police Department dispatcher at (805) 654-9511. If one has not suffered a financial loss but wishes to report the scam, the Moorpark Police Fraud Hotline number is (805) 299-1566.

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