Fake email scams affect businesses worldwide — even Disney

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Across the world, businesses and governments have fallen for scams. It's even happened at Disney World.

A Winter Park title company fell victim to an email scam this summer and unwittingly paid $160,000 for a mortgage that ended up in the bank account of a Midwesterner with ties to overseas criminal enterprises, according to federal court documents.

The federal complaint doesn’t name the Florida title company but does detail how the scheme unfolded after the title company got emails and documents that seemed authentic.

The title company’s client sold property and $160,342 was supposed to be paid at closing to the mortgage holder, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court’s Orlando division.

The title company’s closing agent emailed the property seller to get documents from the seller’s ex-wife to finish the deal. He quickly got a response in his inbox one minute later from someone who he thought was the seller. Only it wasn’t. Fraudsters had spoofed the seller’s email, according to the federal complaint.

The “seller” asked for a copy of the payoff statement and then pointed out a “minor mistake.” The agent later received a fake document from the “lender” with new instructions to wire the money to a different account. The closing agent eventually sent $160,342 to a JPMorgan Chase bank account as he was told to pay off the mortgage loan.

Two weeks later, the seller learned he hadn’t paid the mortgage that month. The seller contacted the closing agent to figure out what happened, and that’s what alerted the title company of the fraud.

Authorities said the closing agent had wired the money to an account that actually belonged to Jevontae Wilkins of Indianapolis.

U.S. Secret Service special agents, who investigate cyber and financial crimes, interviewed Wilkins on July 30 in Indiana. Wilkins said he didn’t know where the money originally came from but admitted he “had been laundering money for a criminal organization, the Nigerians, for some time,” according to the complaint.

Through Instagram, Wilkins said he met a Dubai man named “Michael” and he helped Michael with “foreign currency trading,” the complaint said. Michael sent Wilkins money and Wilkins converted it into Bitcoin — a digital currency that’s a favorite by hackers because it is hard to trace — and sent it back.

Wilkins also interacted with someone allegedly named Daniel Getting who described himself as Michael’s boss.

Getting was the one who arranged for about $588,000 to get transferred into Wilkins’ JPMorgan Chase bank account. The money wasn’t only from the Florida fraud, federal authorities said. An employee at an unidentified Baltimore, Maryland, company fell for a similar scheme, sending $427,971 to Wilkins’ bank account. The Maryland company received a fake email this summer from a real company they normally did business with.

Wilkins followed Getting’s instructions and transferred more than half a million dollars from his JPMorgan Chase account into a new one he set up at KeyBank. For helping Getting, Wilkins expected to collect $60,000, the complaint said.

Instead, Wilkins voluntarily surrendered what was left of the $588,000 after speaking with federal investigators. He had already spent $6,000 on a car down payment for his wife and other personal expenses, the complaint said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Irick granted an order Thursday to allow the money to be forfeited and Wilkins’ arrest warrant to get issued.

The FBI calls business email compromises “one of the most financially damaging online crimes. It exploits the fact that so many of us rely on email to conduct business —both personal and professional.”

Across the world, businesses and governments have fallen for similar scams. It’s even happened at Disney World.

An employee at Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney’s government, got fake emails from a real landscaping vendor and was tricked into paying out about $722,000. Disney’s government ended up recovering all the money except for $94,000, the Orlando Sentinel reported in 2018.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.



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