I-Team: Man loses life savings in escrow scam

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Imagine wiring money to what you think is a title company to buy a home or property and suddenly it’s gone. It’s a new scam which the FBI is now warning consumers about.

“They asked me to wire the money,” Yves Ghiai said. “I wired the money.”

It was more than $168,000 to seal the deal.

“I even sent an email to confirm that, you know, this is what I wired,” he said.

But when the San Francisco native showed up in Las Vegas one week later, he knew something was wrong.

“I went to the title company. The escrow officer said, as I said, she made me sign the papers to close escrow and she said ‘When do you think of wiring us the money?” Ghiai said. “She said, ‘We never got the money.’ I said well look, these are all the emails. Then they panicked and she said, ‘Well that’s not my email.’  At that point, I thought my heart was going to stop.”

Ghiai planned on buying property in downtown Las Vegas. He says he was using his retirement money to build on the property and leave an inheritance for his children. Instead, the real estate transaction and his money were gone within seconds.

“This is my life, you know. My life that I put into this investment,” he said. “I was in a hotel room just panicking. I didn’t dare tell my wife. My whole life was going through all those 15 years of savings gone because, you know, I’ve never seen such incompetence in a title company.”

While Ghiai thought he was communicating with a Reliant Title employee, it appears he was actually dealing with a hacker.

“They’ll contact the person who is going to be wiring the money and they will give them additional information or different information which will then re-direct that money to a compromised account,” said Aaron Rouse, FBI.

Rouse is the special agent in charge of the FBI Las Vegas division, which is investigating more scams like this one.

“Our cyber squad is working overtime in thwarting the compromises,” he said.

Ghiai is now suing Reliant Title. The basis of the lawsuit is that the company was not using encrypted email. 

“Well encryption is, it’s a business decision that they’re going to make. We highly recommend that if you’re dealing in financial transactions that you have very good cyber protections,” Rouse said.

He said he can’t comment on investigations, but Ghiai’s attorney Todd Leventhal tells the I-Team the FBI is investigating Ghiai’s incident.

“We thought the money would be long gone overseas somewhere but we’ve come to find out that it was someone back East that actually withdrew the money,” Leventhal said.

His focus though is holding Reliant Title accountable.

“It’s the fact that they just didn’t take the extra security step for their clients to preserve their client’s financial information, and their client’s money,” Leventhal said.

It turns out Reliant Title has since shut down in Nevada but according to its website, it remains in the portfolio of Texas-based Tenura Holdings.

The I-Team reached out to Reliant’s attorney who in an email stated:

“While Reliant is confident that it will prevail in this litigation, it does not believe it is prudent to litigate any dispute through the media. As all of the facts unfold in this matter, we believe it will become clear that Reliant is not responsible for plaintiff’s unfortunate loss of the purchase price. However, given the complexities of this case, there is no 30-second sound bite that succinctly summarizes why Reliant is not at fault. Therefore, Reliant will allow this matter to play out in open court as opposed to addressing it in the media.”

“They have just basically buried their head in the sand and this is happening and right now Yves is out of the money and lost the deal,” Leventhal said.

“It’s due to their negligence, I lost my life savings,” Ghiai said.

To make matters worse, the attoney for Ghiai says Reliant Title did not have insurance.

If Ghiai had realized he was scammed sooner, there may have been a better chance of the recovering the money because the bank could be contacted and investigators could have looked into it right away but  he didn’t realize the problem until a week later.

Victims should always report an online crime the FBI at this website.

If you get an email requesting money, it’s a good idea to call the person and make sure they actually sent the email.

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