On the heels of our first-ever Agent Appreciation month, Inman is leaping into February with our Residential Finance theme month. Join us as we investigate how buying and selling a home is changing, from companies backing consumers in new ways to integrated services that handle the entire transaction.
Kevin Noar, a chef, and Nicole Mercantini, a nurse at UC San Diego, waited until Valentine’s Day to put down $774,631 on their dream house in Carlsbad, California. They had, after months of looking with a trusted agent, found a home in which they wanted to live with their one-year-old son Deklan.
On that day, Noar and Mercantini had received an email asking them to wire their funds into escrow. They had received another email from their escrow company, Power Escrow, a few days earlier and all their personal and bank account information lined up. Everything in the second email matched their closing statement.
The couple had confirmed the transfer with the bank and arranged for a notary. It was only a few days after transferring the money that the couple realized that they had underpaid by a small amount and contacted the company to correct it. As they would later discover, a hacker had somehow gained access to their information and sent out a fake email — all the money had gone to an unidentified receiver.
“Our escrow company sent everything the hackers needed to copy and then follow through with their scam by emailing us,” Noar told Inman. “That started the whole chain.”
After contacting the FBI, Noar and Mercantini were able to find out that the money had gone from California to Texas then to Singapore. Once there, it was broken down into bitcoin and is now almost impossible to trace.
“I immediately went to FBI to try to put a recall on the wire but they couldn’t trace it back because it had already gone to San Francisco,” Noar said. “We had to get the FBI involved to basically subpoena where the wire went. By that time, it was already in Singapore.”
Noar and Mercantini are currently trying to figure out their next steps — they have been contacted by a multitude of lawyers but are hoping to settle it with the bank and the escrow company without going to court. Family members have liquidated their assets so that the couple wouldn’t lose their house and the thousands of dollars it took to get to the escrow process.
“We have a one-year-old son and this has consumed us,” Mercantini said.
Noar’s mother has also launched a GoFundMe page to help the couple. They said they received both support and pushback — some people on the internet accused them of being careless and transferring money foolishly. But Mercantini said that the current escrow process, which often allows for no other way to transfer money but through wire, is rife territory for scammers. She advised anyone to not wire if you can and, if you can’t, have a courier deliver bank information so that it is not sent through email.
“We were pretty meticulous,” Noar said. “If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody.”