Warning: Colorado Mom and Daughter Scammed Out of Nearly $200K
Email changed the world in so many ways, like making business much easier and faster to conduct or staying in touch with long distance friends and family. Sad to say, it's also made it significantly easier for scammers to dig into vulnerable people and/or processes to find more and more creative ways to get their cut of your hard earned money.
Such is the case in Lakewood, Colorado this week, where recently retired teacher Vickie Ragle and her daughter Sarah were scammed out of nearly $200,000 by unknown criminals.
Ragle and her daughter were purchasing a townhome where they were to settle for the long haul. And if you've ever purchased a home, you know how exhausting the mortgage and title process can be. After the excitement of having your offer accepted, you can't hardly wait for the process to finish with the flurry of paperwork needed to just get to closing.
The two women were nearing the finish line, when two days before the closing the title company reached out via email and asked for $196,662.81 due to close, and included wiring instructions. Nothing entirely out of the ordinary there. Ragle wired the funds.
Except for the fact that it wasn't the title company at all. It was scammers posing as the title company, after somehow hijacking the email chain between Ragle and the actual title company.
She and her daughter showed up at the closing as scheduled two days later. As she puts it, "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.'”
The money was gone. Nearly $200,000 vanished into some stranger's bank account, simply from a hijacked email thread. Needless to say, the mother and daughter were not able to close on the townhome that day. Even worse, the money they had saved for it was also gone, leaving them without a home and without the freshly retired teacher's life savings.
Now, a co-worker of Ragle's daughter Sarah set up a GoFundMe campaign to help recoup that money, and as of March 17, they've thankfully already raised over $101,000. Here's hoping they get every cent of it back to be able to buy the townhome - or a different townhome - of their dreams.
The FBI warms Colorado residents about these kind of scams.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it received 504 complaints of email compromise in Colorado alone in 2022, totaling nearly $54 million in theft. That's just in Colorado.
They offer the following warnings and tips for completing these kinds of transactions:
- 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.