LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) — A mom and her daughter in Colorado want to warn others after they were scammed out of almost $200,000 while trying to buy a townhome. They said hackers created spoof emails posing as their lender, title company and realtor as they went through the home-buying process.
“At some point, the chain of emails got hacked. I started getting fraud emails and I didn’t realize they were fraud emails,” said Vicki Ragle, the victim of the scam.
Ragle and her daughter, Sarah, said the fraudulent emails looked identical to the authentic emails they had been receiving before the scammers got involved.
On Wednesday, two days before they were supposed to close on the townhome, Ragle said the people, who she believed at the time were the title company, requested the $196,662.81 due to close. The email said they required the funds to be sent within 48 hours in order to close on the home.
“We were supposed to close on a Friday, then on Wednesday they told me they needed the funds in 48 hours or it won’t happen. I said, ‘OK, I will call in an hour and we can do that,'” Ragle said. “They emailed back stating, ‘Don’t call ’cause I’ll be in a closing, but here’s the information.'”
Ragle said the money was sent. Then, on Friday, she and her daughter headed to the title company to finish the closing.
“We went to closing on Friday, everyone was laughing and excited. We signed acres of papers, then the title lady said, ‘Let me check your funds,'” Ragle said. “The title lady said, ‘Where did you send the funds to?’ And I said, ‘I sent them to you,’ and she said, ‘We don’t have them.'”
Ragle and her daughter said they realized at that moment the money was gone. Right away, her daughter reported this all to Lakewood Police along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.
“All I could think is now I’m homeless and broke. I’m 69 years old, and now I’m broke and homeless,” Ragle said. “I walked out of there and I threw up.”
Ragle had been a middle school teacher for 42 years and a single mother. She just retired in July. The nearly $200,000 she lost was her entire life savings.
She said on top of the money taken by the fraudsters, they also had paid earnest money for the home and bought all new furniture.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but we will make it. We will figure it out somehow,” Ragle said.
A friend of Sarah’s started a GoFundMe to help get the two ladies back on their feet.
“I’ve been saving for a while, that’s all I had,” said Ragle, a single mom of two.
According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), this type of scam is called business email compromise, and they said it’s not uncommon.
“Billions of dollars go out every year in this scheme. Billions nationwide especially in real estate transactions,” said the CBI. “CBI works to capture or freeze as much of the funds as possible so they can be returned to the original victim.”
The FBI said in 2022 in Colorado, it received 504 complaints of business email compromise, costing victims nearly $54 million.
The FBI passed along some tips to help protect yourself:
- Be careful with what information you share online or on social media. By openly sharing things like pet names, schools you attended, links to family members, and your birthday, you can give a scammer all the information they need to guess your password or answer your security questions.
- Don’t click on anything in an unsolicited email or text message asking you to update or verify account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own (don’t use the one a potential scammer is providing), and call the company to ask if the request is legitimate.
- Carefully examine the email address, URL, and spelling used in any correspondence. Scammers use slight differences to trick your eye and gain your trust.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
- Set up two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on any account that allows it, and never disable it.
- Verify payment and purchase requests in person if possible or by calling the person to make sure it is legitimate. You should verify any change in account number or payment procedures with the person making the request.
- Be especially wary if the requestor is pressing you to act quickly.
According to the Lakewood Police, who said they haven’t had a case like this before, this is an open and active investigation.