Better Call Behnken: Clearwater homebuyers scammed of down payment when real estate agent hacked

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Sean Vinson and his girlfriend are settling in to their new condo. But, the first time homebuyers learned the hard way, choosing real estate professionals doesn’t mean you won’t get scammed.

The couple are out their $10,000 down payment and had to scramble to get family to help them come up with a second down payment so they would not lose the Clearwater condo they wanted so badly.

This is after a crook ended up with their money, by tricking them into sending their down payment to the wrong account.

“This was supposed to be my first home, supposed to be a great experience, and what happened is just awful,” Vison said.

Vinson and his girlfriend ended up stuck in this situation after they received an email with wiring instructions. It turns out, a crook hacked into their real estate agent’s Yahoo email and got their information.

Then, from an email that looked like the one from the title agent, the crook sent an email to the agent, asking for more information about Vinson. The agent, Inessa Kosonen, of Luxury & Beach Realty in South Pasadena, replied to the scammer, giving up the information.

From there, Vinson received an email from the scammer, posing as Kosonen, giving him fake wiring instructions.

His down payment is gone. He said the FBI tells him it is likely in Kenya.

At first, Kosonen’s broker, Julie Simpson, offered to give the buyer’s side of the commission to Vinson to help him recoup funds, even though he wants the full $10,000.

But, after the closing in late April, Vinson said, the realty office went quiet and he has seen no money.

“No response. I’ve called her multiple times, emailed her, nothing,” Vinson said.

No one from the realty office returned calls from 8 On Your Side.

This is the second real estate hacking case 8 On Your Side has covered. Realty professionals have been warned by the FBI and realty groups to use secure emails and avoid sending wiring instructions via email.

If you receive such instructions in an email, always call your agent or closing agent to verify before going through with a wire transfer.

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