7 On Your Side warns of real estate scam to steal your savings

PARLIN, New Jersey (WABC) -- 7 On Your Side has a warning about a real estate scam that can take your savings in seconds.

In-person real estate closings are all but impossible during the coronavirus pandemic, and scammers know this and are hacking into emails of real estate professionals.

With a few clicks, they know everything from your down payment amount to your closing date. And as one New Jersey woman found out, that's all one thief needed to steal your life savings.

"Frantic," Donna Dellas said. "I was frantic."

She was panicked after realizing she had wired her life savings to a scammer.

"I was crying hysterically in the bank, because at that point I thought I'd lose my condo," she said.

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A new townhouse was going to provide a fresh start for the single mom.

"Being on my own, it was a sacrifice to save," she said. "I saved for years."

She had scraped together a $25,000 down payment for her Parlin condo.

"Two days before the closing, I got an email," she said.

She thought it was from her real estate attorney, telling her that because of the pandemic, she needed to wire all the down payment money "to avoid a closing delay."

Smartly, she even called her attorney to verify. But he wasn't in, so she left a message and wired the cash.

"As soon as it went through, my lawyer called me back saying, 'That's not me,'" she said.

The scammer had hacked into her lawyer's email and sent her a spoof.

"Within seven minutes, the money was taken out of my account," she said. "They weren't sure if they could get it back at that point."

Weeks later, though, the money still hadn't been returned. So we contacted her bank, Chase, and Bank of America, where the money was wired.

The two banks worked together and sent her full deposit, all $25,000, back to her account.

"I was dancing in the street," she said. "I really didn't believe it was true."

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Both banks said Dellas was very lucky to get the money back, but there was one new twist to this scam -- thieves now request the funds be sent to a legitimate but seldom used account into which they've hacked. Authorities say this is a way for crooks to launder the money.

If you get an email like this, call your attorney to verify before wiring away any money.

Additionally, you can always bring a cashier's check to the closing or -- if COVID cancels an in-person closing -- send it via express mail.

"I owe you the world," Dellas said. "If it wasn't for 7 on Your Side, I wouldn't have this condo."

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