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Scammers stole their home down payment. Here’s how you can avoid a similar ripoff

 

 — Over the course of seven years, a local couple saved tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment on their first home — then, scammers took their money.

These scammers are so slick and so cunning that it’s hard for home buyers and sellers to realize something is wrong. The growing problem is so common that the Federal Trade Commission recently reissued an alert about the scam. And, with more than $50,000 at stake, a couple of first-time home buyers in Durham want to reinforce the warning.

After months of searching, Cemal and Derya Biryol finally found their dream home, and their excitement grew even more when their offer was accepted and the closing date was set.

Everything seemed perfect until an email came that asked for their $53,000 down payment. The email appeared to come from their closing attorney and included their insurance information and the exact amount due: $53,194.48. Attached wiring instructions even warned about fraud.

Cemal wired the funds and emailed his realtor to be on the lookout for them. The realtor sounded the alarm when she realized the funds went to the wrong bank.

“I almost started crying,” said Cemal. “I felt ashamed, or helpless, because it’s all (Derya’s) savings, together it’s all our savings, and I just sent it to someone else in a matter of seconds.”

“You just think, oh my gosh, so much money, and it’s just gone,” said Derya.

Hackers target buyers, sellers, agents and attorneys in different scenarios. Often, they break into a broker’s email, gather sensitive and accurate information about a transaction, and then clone the email address. As the closing date nears, they email the buyer new wiring instructions.

“I was pleading with my bank,” said Cemal. “I lost myself for a moment — I was asking these people, saying I lost my life savings, please help me. Please, this is a scam, please. The bank said it was already past the half-hour limit, so they could not stop the transaction.”

The bank did flag the funds as fraudulent and try to recall the wire, and Detective Ben Garth with the Durham Police Department’s financial crimes unit jumped on the case.

“Once it’s gone, it’s usually gone,” said Garth, but then he discovered that the Biryol’s money landed in a busy account.  “Another $120,000 fraudulent wire came into the same account,” said Garth.

Ultimately, because of all the quick action involved, and because they sent the payment on a Friday afternoon, the Biryols lucked out.

“The wire operations end at the end of the day on Friday and start again on Monday, so nobody was able to touch the funds in that account after we wired the money,” said Cemal.

Even after the Biryols froze the funds, it still took two more weeks for the bank to release the funds back to them. “Right at that moment I saw that money and I felt relief,” said Cemal.

After a delayed closing, these first-time home buyers are hoping others hear their warning about how fortunate they feel to also be first-time scam survivors.

“It’s easy money for them, but it’s just cruel,” said Derya. “We got lucky,” Cemal agreed.

Officials say the best way to protect yourself from a similar scam is to verify all details of a real estate transaction by phone before you send anything. The phone numbers you use need to be legitimate, not numbers you receive in a suspicious email.

Even better? Make the exchange in person.

WRAL news: Reporter 

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Energy Efficient Home Hacks to Complete Before End of Summer

It’s hard to believe that the end of summer is almost here!  The soaring temperatures of the time come with sky-high energy bills. If you’re looking to improve your home’s energy efficiency as your HVAC kicks into overdrive, consider adding these energy efficient home hacks to your weekend warrior to-do list.

Increase Insulation
Air leakages can occur anywhere in your home, resulting in your AC unit having to work that much harder to keep your home comfortable. Adding a new layer of insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more energy efficient. Best of all, you can do this easy hack yourself! Before laying any new insulation, be sure to plug up any large openings and seal off small cracks, especially around attic hatches, window frames, and electrical outlets.

Smart Home Automation
It seems like almost every electronic device now has a smart alternative on the market. Though it’s easy to write off this technology as a luxury, most of these devices can actually go a long way in helping to reduce your energy usage each month. Whether it’s a thermostat that learns your family’s habits or a dishwasher that only runs during off-peak energy hours, smart home appliances and devices can go a long way in helping curb your family’s energy demands.

Close Your Blinds
Sometimes the best hacks are also the easiest—and cheapest! By simply closing your blinds, especially for south- and west-facing windows, you have the potential to save upwards of seven percent off your energy bill, as well as lowering the ambient temperature by up to 20 degrees. Considering that almost 30 percent of unwanted humid summer heat comes in from your windows, it makes sense to drop the shades on the afternoon sun. Better yet, if it’s in your budget, replace those worn-out windows altogether. Energy Star has found that most homeowners can expect to see an average 12 percent drop in their home’s energy consumption after replacing single-pane windows with Energy Star qualified alternatives.

Landscape to Lower Energy
Think of landscaping as your exterior blinds, and plant a few trees along the south side of your home to help block direct sunlight from ever making it to your windows. Ensure that any tree you plant is a leafy variety, rather than an evergreen, so that you can get exceptional shade in the summer and plenty of warming sun in the leafless winter months. Similarly, plant evergreen shrubs around your home’s foundation to add year-round insulation

Cooking Counts

Summer is virtually synonymous with grilling, but did you ever consider just how much energy you can save by sparking up some charcoal instead of your oven? Not only will you be sparing yourself any operating costs, but you’ll also prevent your HVAC from having to combat the added heat your culinary masterpiece is likely to create.

The best way to make your home as energy-efficient as possible is to have a professional perform an energy audit. The typical audit usually only takes a couple hours of your time, but it has the potential to save you thousands of dollars in reduced energy expenses year round.

With a little planning ahead and a few upgrades, you’ll be saving energy daily!

By Courtni Wisenbaker-Scheel – from Housecall

5 Simple Ways to Stage the Exterior of Your Home Before a Viewing

If you’re selling your home, chances are good you’re familiar with the concept of staging your home. Real estate agents recommend your home look its best to prospective buyers, and home staging is a great way to ensure you receive top dollar. But did you know you should stage the exterior of your home too? Failing to update the look of your home’s exterior can cause buyers to get a bad first impression when they initially arrive at your front door.  Whether your audience are luxury home buyers or you are selling your starter home, staging the exterior of your home will have a major impact in the sale of your home.  If you want to put exterior home staging to work, here are five elements you should consider tweaking.

Clean Your Exterior Windows and Screens

Nothing says poor maintenance like dirty windows and window screens. If your windows are caked with dust or muck from the last rainstorm, open house visitors are going to wonder what other maintenance jobs you haven’t attended to. Don’t give visitors the opportunity to question whether your home has been properly maintained or not; clean those windows and screens before trying to sell your home.

Refresh Your Gardens and Walkways

Just like dirty windows are a real estate faux pas, so are unkempt flower beds. Weeds and overgrown bushes tell visitors you can’t be bothered with the small stuff. Spend a day removing weeds and trimming flowers, or hire a professional landscaper to refresh your gardens.  It is amazing what a refreshed garden can do to your home’s curb appeal.

Refresh Your Home’s Siding

No, you don’t have to replace your home’s siding prior to viewing. A quick power wash could be all it takes to remove years of dust and grime. You can attempt this task yourself, but it might be worth your while to hire a professional. Some homeowners have been known to damage their home’s siding by using too forceful a water stream. This is one task that is often best left to experienced professionals.

Update/Clean Door Fixtures and House Address Signage

Something as simple as a new doorknob or address signage can give your home a refreshed look. You needn’t spring for a new door; just update the faceplate and/or doorknob. Purchase new address numbers from the local hardware store and you’ll have tweaked the look of your home’s exterior in just a few minutes.

Clean Patio Furniture

Whether you have chairs on your front veranda or a dining set on your back deck, tired patio furniture can cost you big dollars when it comes time to negotiate with a potential homebuyer. Dilapidated patio furniture instantly gives a bad impression and can cause potential homebuyers to request replacement furniture as part of their deal. Spruce up your existing furniture with a quick power wash, or replace it if it is beyond cleaning.

Simple tweaks to the exterior of your home can have a big impact on your home’s final selling price. By spending just a few days improving the look of the outside of your home, you can increase the amount buyers are willing to offer and make your home the cleanest real estate listing on the block.

by: Charles Muotoh, the owner of dcrealestateguru.com