• Action 9 investigates home sale hackers

    By: Todd Ulrich , Gerry Mendiburt

    Updated:

    LONGWOOD, Fla. - Here is an exclusive warning about cyber criminals targeting local home sellers and buyers.

    Marie and Erwin Hammerling found buyers for their Longwood home within days. But all of that changed just 48 hours after it sold.

    “Just horrible. This is the most horrible thing you can imagine,” said Marie Hammerling.

    Her closing statement showed they were owed $326,000 that the title company would wire to their bank accounts.

    Two days later, the funds had not reached them. Hammerling called Thoroughbred Title West and heard from company owner Renee Sowards.

    “Oh, I received an email and it was supposed to go to a different account,” said Marie Hammerling.          

    That's when the couple realized cyber criminals had hacked their realtors or title company emails and used the home sale information to create phony wiring instructions and hijacked $326,000.

    “Somebody obviously knew our inside information,” said Marie Hammerling.     

    According to the sellers the title company never called to verify new payment instructions, sent by email to an iPhone.

    Action 9 found it's happening nationwide: Hackers infiltrate real estate email accounts and then steal millions from home sellers and buyers.              

    The National Association of Realtors sent out a warning a year ago.

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    “We're hearing new cases of this happening on a weekly basis, and people's lives are being devastated,” said Jessica Edgerton, attorney with the National Association of Realtors.

    The Federal Trade Commission tells home buyers and sellers to demand voice verification for any wiring instructions.

    Todd Ulrich went to Thoroughbred Title West for answers.

    "Todd Ulrich from Channel 9 for Renee?” he said.

    “Yes,” replied owner Renee Sowards.  

    “Renee?” asked Ulrich.

    “No, No,” replied Sowards as she closed the door.

    “They're missing a lot of money, trying to figure out how it happened?” said Ulrich through the locked door.

    Later Sowards told Ulrich she's a victim too and never knew this could happen. She reported it to the FBI.             

    Days after Action 9 interviewed Marie Hammerling, the FBI had intercepted $291,000 before it left the country.

    “This is a nightmare. When is it going to end?” Marie Hammerling asked.

    The $291,000 will be returned to the seller. The couple will file a claim against the title company's liability insurance, hoping to recover the $35,000 balance.

    Verify any wiring instructions with a phone call to the title company, and then realtors and title companies have to secure their emails so hackers can't steal this information.

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