What to Know
- Thieves target home buyers, using hacked or spoofed emails to impersonate real estate professionals and send phony money wiring instructions
- Prosecutors say identifying and catching hackers and internet fraudsters can be almost impossible
- The FBI warns all home buyers and sellers to follow all online financial transactions with an immediate phone call to verify receipt
The Santa Clara County District Attorney is investigating the theft of $25,000 from a San Jose family, after a series of NBC Bay Area reports exposed the depth of the problem.
Cindy Bernal, whose story we first shared in June, says her plight caught the attention of investigators.
"They saw the news story, and they wanted to help out as best they could," she said.
In May, Bernal's $25,000 payment for a house was stolen. She says hackers infiltrated a real estate agent's email, then posed as that agent with instructions to transfer the payment to a bank account. The payment -- and the thieves -- vanished without a trace, and Bernal was left with nothing.
"It's ruined my life," she said.
None of the real estate or banking professionals involved in the sale would take responsibility for the theft. All denied they were hacked. So, Bernal turned to NBC Bay Area.
Deputy District Attorney Melanie Griswold works in the Santa Clara County D.A. office's fraud unit. She admits crimes like this are a challenge for prosecutors.
"When you have crimes over the internet, it's very easy to mask identities," Griswold said. "If the trail leads to a dead end, there's not much we can do at the District Attorney's office, because in order to pursue a criminal case, we have to have a defendant that we can charge."
It's a longshot that detectives will identifiy the crooks who took Bernal's money. Still, the D.A. is listening, and that gives Bernal hope.
"They're opening an investigation," Bernal said. "I'm very happy for that."
Bernal is fighting for herself, too. She recently filed a lawsuit against the real estate agents who she blames for failing to protect her money. Her day in corut is scheduled for next June, and NBC Bay Area will be following that case closely.
The Bernal family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover their essential needs while they try to find a new place to live. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so by clicking here.
If you are a victim of fraud in a real estate transaction, NBC Bay Area wants to hear from you. Please call us at 888-996-8477, or click here to reach us online.