Sarasota home buyer contacts ‘Better Call Behnken’ after email hacker takes $51,133 down payment

Sheryl Johnson is out $51,133 for a down payment on a home.

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) –  A Sarasota homebuyer is out $51,133 for a down payment on a home, after a computer hacker apparently broke into her real estate agent’s email account and manipulated wire transfer instructions, rerouting the money to the crook’s bank account.

Sheryl Johnson is devastated and says she was told she must quickly come with the money again or she will be unable to close on the Bradenton home.

“This is my life savings,” said Johnson, who is a nurse and single mother. “I am in shock.”

Even more shocking, she said, is that local police sent her to the FBI, and she says she still has not heard back on whether they are investigating. This incident occurred Aug. 19.

“No one seems interested in helping me,” she said.

This theft occurred after Johnson received an email from her real estate agent, Elizabeth Newgard, of Boyd Realty. She was expecting the wire transfer instructions and printed out the information and took it to her bank. She now knows that a scammer apparently changed the bank account and recipient’s name on the instructions and then sent it to Johnson. Since the email came from Newgard’s email address, she didn’t question anything.

She now sees red flags on the wire instructions that she thinks her Wells Fargo banker should have caught. For example, the top of the cover page lists the title agency and attorney name as the receiver of the funds, however, further down the page, an account number for a trust for the scammer is listed. This was not questioned by the bank.

Further concerning is what happened after Johnson discovered she had been scammed.

“We walked right across the street to Bank of America and asked them to freeze that account for us, and we were told we would have to deal with the fraud department through Bank of America to the fraud department of Wells Fargo.”

Johnson says she was told her money had successfully transferred to this stranger’s account, but the bank was unable to do anything about it. This was on Friday, August 19. Johnson says the money was gone and the account was closed by Monday.

“I feel Bank of America really dropped the ball,” Johnson said.

Matthew Daily, a spokesman for Bank of America said he cannot comment on the identity of the person who took the money but said that the bank is looking into the situation.

At Boyd’s Realty, broker Brenda Boyd May says this is the first time this has happened at her business and that there are no signs that anyone else’s email has been compromised.

Newgard said she is “heartsick” about what happened to Johnson’s money and is trying to reach out to authorities who may be able to help.

“I also want to warn others in real estate so we can have safeguards in place,” Newgard said.

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