SCAM ALERT: New scam targeting real estate transaction has cost people $40 million this year

The FBI has a warning tonight involving an elaborate scam that has already cost people in Phoenix about $40 million this year.

According to the FBI, criminals are taking advantage of those in the process of buying real estate.

"What they'll do is utilize malware, in many cases, to monitor email communications of someone involved in a real estate transaction," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Martin Hellmer. "It could be the buyer, the seller, real estate agent, escrow company, title company, that sort of thing."

Hellmer said this is another form of the business email compromise, or "BEC" scam. He said the criminals are tricking customers into sending them valuable information, or money to bank accounts they control.

"Just before the purchaser is supposed to wire his or her down payment, the criminal will send an email to the purchaser with new wiring instructions," said Hellmer.

Hellmer said about 250 Arizonans have fallen victim to this scam so far this year, totaling about $41 million lost. He said it is very rare for wiring instructions to change, especially at the last minute.

"We encourage folks, especially those nowadays that are involved in real estate transactions, to be highly suspicious of any email communication requesting that their down payment be wired to a new bank account, and that they call or have a personal conversation with the sender of the email, or someone who is involved with the email transaction," said Hellmer.

The FBI is also asking anyone who believes they've been a victim of this to give them a call.