SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Imagine going to buy a house and losing the entire down payment in an instant. That is what happened to a Spartanburg County couple.
It is not the first time 7NEWS has reported on a scam like this, but by all accounts, this fraud is only becoming more rampant.
In this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive, what you should know before you wire money.
Naomi and Thomas Newbold were about to make the smartest money move they could muster, to pay off a mountain of medical debt, downsizing.
“We were sacrificing on everything we could to get us to a good financial spot,” Mrs. Newbold said.
They found a new build in Spartanburg County, and like clockwork, they got an email with wiring instructions just before the closing.
“It was very professionally written, and it had the attorney’s office letterhead on the email. It looked exactly like all the other emails we had gotten,” according to Mrs. Newbold.
Imposter scam element
It was so convincing, in fact, that the scammers, who were impersonating the Newbold’s closing attorney, cc’d an actual employee of that firm.
Moments earlier the scammer, using the same bogus address, had obtained the contact information, via a phishing email, for the Newbolds from their own real estate agent.
No one saw the red flags.
Therefore, the Newbolds wired more than $108,000.
“Instantaneously like that we went from being financially secure, strong future, to you know really insecure, financially insecure,” Mr. Newbold explained.
“To not knowing where we are going to put our heads down at night,” Mrs. Newbold added.
Where does the money go?
It is a scam that is not new to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators said the person receiving those funds is normally another scam victim who is then tricked into sending the money overseas.
“I’ve worked probably 1,000 scams in my career and it’s always deposited into another scam victim’s account because again the scammers are overseas in a different country so they need someone here to accept the money because this particular victim if they was told to wire the money overseas, that would have been a big red flag,” according to Sergeant Tony Brown, who has investigated white-collar crimes for more than three decades.
How scammers get the info
Sgt. Brown said the scammers gain access to private information like the closing timeline and exact downpayment by disguising their email with the name of a real party involved.
You would have to hover over or press on the sender’s name to see that the address is not correct.
That impersonation used to “phish” for information, coupled often with a link in an email that downloads malware to an unsecured account, gives them all they need to succeed.
Real estate firm comment
7NEWS reached out to Allen Tate, the Newbolds real estate firm, who sent us this statement:
“We sincerely regret that these buyers have been victims of wire fraud. We are vigilant to train our agents never to communicate confidential information to anyone, including closing attorneys, or to collect fees. Once our buyers go under contract, the closing attorneys work directly with the buyers to facilitate communication with the mortgage company and to arrange financing and closing costs. We have been working closely with these buyers to contact their attorneys, their bank, and the FBI to remedy the situation. It is important for buyers to be aware of the growing dangers of wire fraud.”Allen Tate
The Newbold’s law firm, Nelson & Galbreath, was also targeted in the same type of scam that 7NEWS reported on in 2018.
Managing Partner Nathan Galbreath said their online security is a top priority, and they know the moment there has been any attempt to access an account, but he adds, they cannot control impersonations.
7NEWS asked Galbreath if the firm was confident that it had not been hacked.
“We are confident that our systems are secure. Our emails are impersonated probably on a daily basis maybe multiple times a day in different transactions, as are other parties in these transactions,” Galbreath said. “These criminals, it’s not like they are just trying once or twice here or there. They are hitting almost every single time. So, it’s a constant exercise in vigilance with everybody involved to try to prevent it.”
How to avoid wire fraud
Galbreath said buyers can avoid this scam by:
- using a certified check and paying in person
- or verifying independently the wire transfer information via phone, both before and immediately after a transaction
Both Galbreath and Allen Tate include warnings in the base of their emails about wire transfer fraud.
As for the Newbolds, they managed to move in, with much less down, much higher payments, and medical debt still unpaid.
However, that hasn’t stopped them from wanting to pay it forward.
“We just don’t want others to be in our shoes because it’s been awful. It’s been a nightmare,” Mrs. Newbold said.
Spartanburg County investigators have pursued a warrant for the banking information of the receiving account located in Tennessee, however, since that money was likely sent overseas, they said there is likely very little chance the Newbolds will get their money back.