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ATLANTA (WGCL) — If you or someone you know are purchasing a home, you may want to double-check with your realtor before wiring your down payment or earnest money.
This advice comes after an Atlanta man used an elaborate scheme to cheat potential homebuyers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to a spokesperson with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Anthony D. King, 39, laundered at least $247,000 from homebuyers throughout the U.S. It only took King four months to rip off the innocent victims.
The scheme started in October 2018 when King opened three bank accounts in Atlanta, each time using a false identity and sham company name, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Days after creating the fraudulent accounts, someone affiliated with King contacted a homebuyer in Oregon. During the conversation, the fraudster impersonated the homebuyer’s realtor and then asked the victim how much money she could wire that day to speed up the process for closing on a home. The impersonator then gave the homebuyer wiring instructions, and the victim wired $45,000 to one of King’s bank accounts in Atlanta.
In another instance, two weeks after the first scheme, a homebuyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota received an email from an impersonator posing as his realtor. The impersonator then gave the victim wiring instructions to close on the property, and the same day, the victim wired over $83,000 to an Atlanta bank account controlled by King.
Later that same month, an impersonator gave a Delaware law firm instructions to pay off a client’s mortgage. Following the impersonator’s instructions, the law firm wired $68, 403 to another bank account controlled by King. The next day, King went to the bank and withdrew $3,800 from the account.
Two months after the last incident, a New Jersey company received an email from an impersonator posing as its landlord. The imposter instructed the company to wire $51, 040 to the landlord for rent. The company complied, and the next day, King deposited a $9, 572 check from his fraudulent account to his personal checking account.
The U.S. Attorney’s office did not say how King was able to locate his victims, however, mortgage experts said victims can be found through phishing email scams and by scammers hacking into realtor’s databases.
For his crimes, King was sentenced to two years, six months in prison and three years of supervised release. Also, he was ordered to pay $124,190.63 in restitution.
“King and his conspirators opened bank accounts, using fictitious identities and sham companies, for the purpose of laundering funds stolen from victims across the country through business email compromise schemes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Now, he is headed to federal prison and must pay full restitution to the victims. Our office will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to bring those who facilitate these cyber-fraud crimes to justice.”
“These cyber scams can be devastating to businesses and individuals who fall prey to them,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “It is a big reason why the Georgia Cyber Fraud Task Force was formed; to educate businesses and the community on how to avoid them. Arrests and convictions, like this one, will make it less lucrative and less appealing for those who contemplate committing these crimes.”
Mortgage broker, Lending Tree, offered the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of mortgage wire fraud:
1. Gather names and numbers from day one. When you sign a purchase contract, the phone numbers and email addresses for the seller, real estate agents and the title company or attorney should be listed on the agreement. Keep this contact page handy to compare to emails and calls from certain phone numbers you receive before closing.
2. Confirm wiring instructions with a phone call. Legitimate wiring instructions that you receive in writing or via email should come with an escrow account number, the physical address of the property you’re buying and routing information for a local bank. Always call someone at the title company first to confirm wiring instructions before you wire funds.
3. Don’t reply or refer to emails for wiring. Don’t click on any links, or reply to or call phone numbers in an email to confirm wiring instructions. Use the contact information gathered at the onset of the process to re-verify the information.
4. Be suspicious of incoming calls. If you’re being asked for any personal financial information on the phone, ask for a name, title and phone number to call back. Then check the number against the data you collected when you signed the contract.
5. Call your lender as a backup. A quick call to your loan processor or loan officer, who works closely with the escrow agent, provides an extra level of protection.
6. Verify that your money was received. Call your title company to confirm receipt of funds the same day that you wire them.
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