Barbara Corcoran, who founded the New York-based Corcoran Group before selling it to Realogy, revealed to People this week that she was conned out of nearly $400,000 thanks to a phishing scam.
Corcoran’s experience thus highlights the growing and high-stakes threats posed by such scams, which typically involve an email that looks legitimate but in fact dupes the victim into wiring money to a thief. The incident also reveals how no one, even famous people, are immune.
In Corcoran’s case, she told People that the incident began when her bookkeeper received an emailed invoice “approving the payment for a real estate renovation.” Corcoran said the invoice appeared to have come from her assistant, and added that there was “no reason to be suspicious as I invest in a lot of real estate.”
Corcoran’s bookkeeper eventually wired the money on Tuesday, People reported. However, the bookkeeper discovered the invoice was fraudulent after using the real email address of Corcoran’s assistant — and discovering it wasn’t the same address that sent the invoice.
“The money was wired to the scammer yesterday and my bookkeeper copied my assistant, who was shocked to see her name on the correspondence,” Corcoran told People Wednesday. “The detail that no one caught was that my assistant’s email address was misspelled by one letter, making it the fake email address set up by the scammers.”
Corcoran added that the scammer has now disappeared, and “I won’t be getting the money back.”
“I lost the $388,700 as a result of a fake email chain sent to my company,” she also said.
Corcoran did not immediately respond to Inman’s request for comment Thursday.
In Corcoran’s case, she is likely to emerge from the scam fairly unscathed. After founding the Corcoran Group in 1973 with just $1,000, she went on to sell it to Realogy in 2001 for, according to The Wall Street Journal, $66 million.
Corcoran subsequently went on to appear as an investor in nine seasons of the TV show Shark Tank, and today her net worth is estimated to be $80 million.
But not everyone who falls victim to similar scams is so fortunate.
In one recent high-profile incident, a California couple lost more than $700,000 after following wiring instructions in a fraudulent email that appeared to come from their real estate agent.
Another incident in 2018 resulted in an Oregon man losing $122,850 — money he and his family had saved for a down payment — to a similar scam. (That story, at least, had a happy ending when the man’s title company hired him so he he could earn back the money.)
Analysts have said that real estate makes an especially tempting target for scammers because it involves high-dollar transactions that often have online components. And last year, the Federal Consumer Protection Bureau (FCPB) warned that phishing scams rose a staggering 1,100 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Additionally, on Thursday broker and Inman contributor Troy Palmquist revealed that his company was recently targeted by a phishing scam. In the wake of the incident, Palmquist urged people to take precautions such as verifying email senders’ identities, using multifactor authentication to protect passwords and taking steps to secure online identities, among other things.
Corcoran had similar insights in the wake of her own incident. In a tweet Wednesday, she shared an article covering the scam and offered some advice: “Be careful where you wire your money.”