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Florida couple loses life savings in email real estate scheme

ORLANDO, Fla. – A couple who recently moved from Connecticut to Central Florida has become the latest victim of a national multi-billion-dollar real estate scheme dubbed Business Email Compromise.

Aimee and Michael Ferla admit they were fooled by email messages last month that appeared to be from the title company hired to handle the closing of their home in De Leon Springs.

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“I sent the wire on Sept. 6, we signed all the closing documents on Sept. 7 and then Sept. 8 I was notified by the title company that the money was never received,” Aimee told News 6. “$18,000, my life savings, gone.”

Their money was transferred to a bank account in Texas. Investigators are working to track the people behind the deception.

The Ferlas are not alone, according to the Global Investigative Operations Center. Real estate victims lost $5 million in Business Email Compromise incidents last Friday alone, data shows.

Stephen Dougherty, a financial investigator and financial analyst with the U.S. Secret Service, has been assigned to GIOC to track U.S. real estate and global fraud cases.

Dougherty told News 6 the imposters gain a victim’s trust by accessing key information through email chains and the dark web.

“They’ll intercept an email trail, 19-20 email messages going back and forth, copy and paste all that so you’re like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely my realtor and title company,’” he said.

The Ferlas said no one involved in the closing wants to help them recoup their money.

Their bank is reviewing the timing of when the Ferlas actually placed a recall request for the funds that could determine if the institution will issue the lost money.

News 6 has shared the Ferlas documents and email with the Global Investigative Operations Center and Michigan-based CertifID.

Tom Cronkright, co-founder and executive chairman of CertifID, told News 6 higher interest rates means higher amounts of cash down on properties exposing “more cash at risk” for home buyers in Florida and across the country.

“You have multiple parties in a transaction that are coordinating on either side,” Cronkright said. “You put that all together and unfortunately, it’s a perfect cocktail for this type of a scam.”

Cronkright told News 6 he was a victim of a business email compromise in 2015. He lost $180,000 in a property closing to an international gang operating in Nigeria.

“It is incredibly prevalent right now in real estate,” He said, “You can determine who owns every piece of property in the U.S. through an open public search so it’s not hard to identify who the fraudster would need to gain access from an email account.”

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