Kristina Herbert and her husband Genaro Pimienta Rosales were just days away from closing on their first home in Carmel Valley.
They had searched for months to find that home, just in time to make the promise they made to their young daughter.
“We had promised to get her a house by her birthday,” Kristina told NBC 7 Responds during an interview.
Then, on the morning of April 3, Kristina received two emails from who appeared to be her escrow agent and her real estate agent. One of the emails was sent from an email address which had their real estate agent’s first and last name. However, upon closer inspection, it was missing one letter in his name. The email from their escrow agent had her correct name but was missing a letter in the title company’s name.
Hackers Targeting Home Buyers in Email Scam
The email requested that Kristina and Genaro wire their down payment, $166,750, to a bank account in Alpharetta, Georgia, a small rural town north of Atlanta.
The following day Kristina went to her Bank of America branch in Torrey Hills. She said with the help of the assistant manager at the Bank of America branch, she wired $180,974.31 to the account listed in the email. Before completing the transaction, Kristina said the assistant manager paused.
“He said, ‘This is odd. There is no escrow number here.’ And I was like, I don’t know, these are the instructions we got. He said okay, we have all the information we need, maybe that’s not necessary.”
The wire transfer was sent.
The next day Kristina says she got a call from her real estate agent asking if she had sent the down payment. She told him she had. He told her that the bank never received it. That’s when she realized what had happened -- that somehow, hackers were able to obtain the names of her escrow and real estate agents and create a convincing email and use that information to reroute her payment.
“It was all of our savings that we had accumulated all of our years together.”
Kristina said she went to the bank to try and stop it but not before the thieves took just under $66,000 out.
NBC 7 Responds reached out to Kristina’s title company, Lawyers Title, for comment. A spokesperson for the company told us that they reviewed all employee’s email accounts and “verified that the email accounts in question show no evidence of unauthorized access.”
The spokesperson also said that Kristina was told to verify any wire instructions by phone before sending a payment.
“Ms. Herbert did not verbally verify the subsequent change in instructions that came from the fraudster,” the spokesperson said by email.
In a statement from Bank of America, a spokesperson told NBC 7 Responds that they “must rely on our customers to do adequate due diligence to ensure that they are wiring funds to the appropriate account."
Kristina and Genaro were able to keep their promise to their daughter and have since moved into their new home. However, they did so after having to readjust their loan to account for the missing money and are now forced to pay property mortgage insurance.