Real estate

Local Mother Loses Life Savings in Real Estate Scam

She has to move out of her home with her two daughters by Friday. 

NBC Universal, Inc.

A South Florida single mother spent her life savings to put down a deposit for a condo. But the money ended up in the wrong hands. 

“I said it’s over. I lost my money,” Patricia Verlino told NBC 6. “Somebody did this to me and I am not going to recover.”

Patricia was just starting to settle into her new condo in Davie with her two teenage daughters. Now, she has to move out by Friday.  

The $63,000 down payment to close was sent from her bank in a wire transfer. Patricia told NBC 6 she worked years to save the deposit.  

“A lot of sacrifice,” Patricia said. “A lot of times without the girls because I get out of one job and go to another one. I work on the weekends. Also, I don’t go on vacation with the girls.”

Patricia shared with NBC 6 documents showing she closed on the home with the title company earlier this month. But she said, as she was unpacking, she got a call from her realtor. 

“She said ‘call your bank because the title company is still not receiving the wire,’” Patricia told us.  

The bank’s records show the down payment money was wired. So Patricia shared the wire instructions she received with her realtor and the title company. 

“When I forwarded that email to the title company, somebody from the title company said ‘this is not our account,’ and that’s like when I was like ‘Oh my God, this is a problem.’”

Kevin Tacher, who runs Independence Title in Broward, didn’t have anything to do with the transaction but works hard to make sure others know about this scam.

“It’s the number one largest real estate scam in the country right now — wire fraud,” Tacher said, adding “It’s the saddest thing to see someone lose their life savings.”

Patricia showed us the emails she received with what she thought were the wire instructions.

The email had her title company’s name and information, and the sender appeared to be a company employee. It's a woman whose name is also listed in her closing documents.

“The email was hacked,” Teacher said. “These hackers - what they do - is they monitor the email until they see a business transaction going down. Then, they pose themselves which is called spoofing — they spoof themselves to be the title agent asking her to wire them money.”

The company later confirmed the employee’s name was misspelled and she was not working there at the time the fraudulent email was sent.

In an email, Patricia’s realtor told us she gave her the correct wire instructions at the beginning of the process when she signed the contract, adding “When it was near to the closing date, I asked her (Patricia) if she had the wire instructions, she said yes.” She also said she didn’t know the employee listed in the email was no longer working for the title company.   

Patricia said she contacted law enforcement, including the Davie Police Department, to see if detectives could find out who took her money. A department’s spokesperson confirmed they are currently investigating the case. 

Her title company, Brokers Title and Escrow, told NBC their “email was not compromised and that domain is not from anyone associated to the company.” 

They declined an on camera interview but wrote in an email, “I completely understand that she is horrified of losing her life savings, we totally sympathize with her. We are on her side and have made ourselves available to fully cooperate with everyone handling this investigation.”

They went on to say they haven’t placed a claim with their insurance because they have not been determined to be responsible for this incident.

“I don’t sleep,” Patricia told NBC 6, while fighting back tears.

She has to move out of the property Friday with her daughters. 

“I just said maybe we need to start all over but I am going to give you (to her daughters) whatever happens after this … I am going to give you a nice place again,” Patricia said. 

Tacher said there are things you can do to prevent this from happening. 

First, he said you should stay in close contact with the title company and confirm items with a phone call. It’s also important to only respond to communications that require authentication with security codes.   

Teacher said title companies should warn buyers not to send funds electronically without these confirmations. Patricia’s title company told us they always do that.

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