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'The scammers are getting quite crafty': Kentucky man nearly loses $70K in real estate scam

Imagine closing on your dream home and being scammed into sending thousands of dollars to a fraudulent bank account. It's what happened to one Louisville man.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Attorney General’s Office in Kentucky reported more than $12.7 million lost to scammers in 2021.

Some of those losses were because of real estate scams.

A Louisville man told WHAS11 News he was in the process of closing on his new home in Jeffersontown when he got an email from someone who appeared to be his closing attorney.

The email encouraged Kevin Thieneman to wire the funds in order to ‘avoid delay’ with closing.

“I had actually had some interaction with them previously,” Thieneman explained. “There was nothing in the emails that made it suspicious in the least little bit.”

Theineman wired more than $70,000 as directed and called his realtor afterward.

“He said ‘Kevin, your closing attorney didn't do anything, and didn’t send you that.’”

Thieneman drove to the bank immediately and was told the money had already been wired. The email from the fraudster was a near-perfect spoof of Kevin's actual closing attorney's email. He said the logo, letterhead, even the signature was the same.

“Except for that one thing,” Thieneman said, pointing to the email address. Instead of ‘LouisvilleLawyers,’ the email came from ‘Lousvilelawyers,’ with one L.

“They'll either hack the listing agent, they'll hack the lender, the closing attorney, they'll hack their email, they will search for actual closing documents,” Shellie May with the Attorney General’s Office in Kentucky, said. She said nationally, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost every year because of real estate scams just like this.

In 2020, $213 million was reported lost because of real-estate scams. In 2021, more than $350 million were lost. That's more than a $100 million increase in just a year.

“The scammers are getting quite crafty,” May said.

Fortunately for Thieneman, he received word five days after wiring the money that it had been returned to his account.

“Big time relief, we just praise God for that happening,” he said.

Though, not all cases have a happy ending

The Attorney General's Office warns folks to be “extra cautious” before wiring your hard-earned money and has provided these tips to avoid real estate or wire transfer scams:

  • Carefully review real estate emails for accuracy. Watch for misspelled words and poor grammar. Be sure to check the accuracy of the sender’s email address.
  • Request encryption of emails containing personal information.
  • Before wiring money, always confirm instructions by personally speaking with your representatives.
  • Do not email financial account information.
  • Identify two trusted individuals who will oversee the closing process and payment instructions.
  • Protect your personal information.

To learn more, visit ag.ky.gov/identity-theft

Kentuckians can report scams to the Attorney General’s Office at ag.ky.gov/scams.

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