Wire Fraud Story

Hi, everybody. Cheryl Knowlton, CEO of Dynamite Productions, coming at you with a horror story. This is going to take a little minute for me to tell this, but I promise you it’s worth hearing the whole thing.

Once upon a time, about two months ago, I was so excited to be working with a new agent who is representing me as a speaker. She booked me for three events with one client in another state. And they offered to pay me quite a bit of money, with commas and all sorts of happiness involved. I signed the contract with the client, and the client paid my agent.

Here is the problem.

Before the client paid, my agent, Nancy, was worried about the cost of flights going up. So on Monday, she said, “Please send me your banking information via email. And I will wire you the money for your airfare so that you can buy tickets before the price goes up.”

Because the price that we had negotiated with the client was all-inclusive. And she didn’t want the price of airfare to skyrocket, and then for it to cost me a bunch of money. She was so wonderful, and she offered to advance the money to me.

I sent her my banking information via email. This is going to be a critical detail in a minute.

By Thursday of that week, the client had paid, and yay, we were celebrating. She was going to wire me a lot of money, and I was very, very excited to receive this. I needed to pay my team and had bills to pay. And I’m like, “Yeah,  all the happiness,” right?

On Thursday, she set up the wire and she texted me when this was done. And I was so excited. Friday morning I waited until 10, 10:30. And I just sent her a quick text. “Hey, Nancy, just wanted to let you know, I have not received the wire yet.”

And she said, very nicely, “Hold your horses. It’s coming, I promise. And I’ll send over the wire confirmation receipts just so that you can see that the transaction went through.” And I said, “Perfect.”

By one o’clock, it still hadn’t come. And I let her know it still hadn’t come. She said, “Ugh, I would’ve expected it to be to you by now. Please reach out to your bank.” So I did. I called my bank. We’ve banked at the same credit union for many, many, many years, decades for my husband, and fabulous people.

I called them and I said, “Hey,” I introduced myself, I gave them my account information; I said, “by any chance have you seen this wire or any indication that this wire is coming and that it’s pending?” And they said, “Gosh, no, we haven’t. I’m sorry.”

And I said, “Well, I’ve got this transfer receipt. Would that be helpful?”

“Oh yes. That would be very helpful. Pull it up.”

I’m on the phone and I pull it up. And the first thing I notice … Uh-oh, Nancy, you’ve sent the wire to the wrong bank! It’s the wrong bank entirely. And as I looked, I could see that the account number was wrong, also. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoopsy.

So, apologize to the guy at the credit union. “I’m so sorry. I can see that it’s been sent to the wrong bank. Hold tight. We’ll get back to you.”

That’s not my bank!

So I sent Nancy a text, “Hey, oopsy-daisy. That’s not my bank. And that’s not my account number.” Aggh. Now I happened to be with one of two people that could save me in this moment of, oh my gosh, what’s happening right now?

I happened to be with my daughter Ashley. Ashley had been the lead teller for Wells Fargo Bank for, I want to say seven years. Then after that, she went on to work for eBay in their Fraud Department. And she was like, “Oh my gosh.”

And I’m driving, I’m on the freeway. We’re driving down to Las Vegas. So I hand her my phone and I say, “Can you look at this wire transfer situation and see what’s going on?”

In the meantime, as I’ve texted Nancy to say, “Oopsy, you sent it to the wrong bank and the wrong account number.” She … bless her heart … got a little defensive. And she said, “No, no, no. You sent me an email.”

“What are you talking about, sent you an email?”

“I’ll forward it to you,” she says.

She sends the email. Ashley pulls it up. And Ashley, all of a sudden starts shaking her head and saying over and over again, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.”

I’m driving on the freeway, trying not to crash. What is happening? I can’t afford to lose all of this money; I was counting on it, depending on it. And now I’m freaking out just a little bit.

The email said, “Dear Nancy.” It was as if it was from me. And the email address was very, very close to mine. One of my email addresses is cherylknows@me.com. It’s my Apple email address. And the person who was pretending to be me … aren’t they cute … sent the email to Nancy from cherylknows@mail, M-A-I-L, dot com. So close, and Nancy didn’t recognize that it was different.

The email said, “Dear Nancy, I’ve been having some difficulty with my bank, so I need you to send the wire to this bank at this account number instead. Thank you so much. Looking forward to working with you. Have a great day.”

Except not my email signature, and Ashley counted 65 text typos, grammatical errors, punctuation, spelling; it was a mess. It was a mess. Ashley said, “She doesn’t know you very well, because you did not write this. This is an absolute disaster of an email.”

But dang it. Nancy bought it. And Nancy sent the entirety of my speaker fee to this other bank and this other account number … and I’m choking up just recounting this story to you. This is so hard for me to share.

And I thought, “Oh no.” And Ashley said to me, “Mom, the whole thing about wires. And we know this in real estate. The reason we love wires is they’re a sure thing. Other than the fact that they need to clear the Federal Reserve, it doesn’t need to be seasoned. It doesn’t need to be sourced. If I want to send you a wire, I have to sign. I am certain that I want to send this money to you.”

And Nancy signed away all of my dollars and sent them to some fraudster somewhere who had intercepted my email to her.

Ashley said to me, “Mom, you need to take a deep breath, and you need to act as if you’re never going to get a dime of that money. That it’s gone. Because Nancy accidentally sent it to somewhere else, believing that this email was coming from you.”

And at that moment, I had a very difficult decision to make. My amazing mindset coach, one of the most important people in my life, Dr. Aaron Wilkerson always tells me, “Nothing happens to you. Things happen for you. They don’t happen to you.”

I could hear him in my head as I’m driving on the freeway, trying so hard not to cry, and trying not to freak out and have a medical event right there. Because I’m driving, got my daughter in the car.

I teach people about wire fraud.

I had a decision to make. If this isn’t happening to me and it’s happening for me, what is there for me to learn from this experience? Other than the fact that I teach people about wire fraud. I teach brokerages, risk management about wire fraud. What can I learn from this?

And I thought about it for a hot minute after I took a deep breath and I thought, okay, the client has a contract with me. They signed it. I signed it. And they paid in full in good faith.

And at that moment, I made a decision. I will show up. I will deliver. Even if I don’t get paid a dime. Even if that money is gone entirely, it wasn’t the client’s fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. Nevertheless, I’m going to show up. and I’m going to do what they hired me to do.

That was a very important decision-making moment for me because I know that I acted in alignment with my values. I acted in integrity to be there and serve and deliver magic for this client, which is exactly what they hired me to do.

Like all fabulous stories, especially one told by a Disney princess, this story has a happy ending. Nancy called back, and she was so happy and so excited. The bank teller on the receiving end of that wire looked at the request at the wire, and she noticed that the name on that bank account was not Dynamite Productions. It was something else. And because of that, she returned the wire.

The money was already back in Nancy’s bank account before I even had my first almost-medical event in this entire story.

Moral of the story: My friends, if you get any kind of wire request or change around anything, it doesn’t even have to be a real estate transaction. But heaven forbid if it is, you have a fiduciary obligation, especially if you’re the broker, to protect your client.

Please educate all of your clients, your buyers, your sellers. And if you’re the broker, please educate your agents. That there are people who are very smart, who are intent on using their brilliance to not do good in this world. We need to be ahead of the game.

If you ever get an email, or if any of your agents ever get an email; and warn your clients, both buyer and seller, if they ever get an email with different instructions as to where to wire funds, always pick up the phone and call and verify. Always.

My favorite lender, my national sponsor, Castle N Cooke Mortgage, did a loan for my stepson when he bought his first home Christmas a couple of years ago. He was closing on the 23rd of December. What a fun Christmas, for him and us. We got part of our house back, which was great. They implemented a policy with my stepson, Richard. He was the very first one to get wire instructions FedExed to us the day of settlement.

Have a very important conversation with your escrow officer, with your favorite title company, on exactly the protocols that need to be put in place to ensure that the right money gets to the right hands and that it doesn’t go off to some nasty fraudster with intent to do everyone in the transaction harm.

So I tell you this story today, making myself the butt of the joke because this happened to me recently. And it is my job, my duty, my obligation, and my joy to share my experiences with you so that you can learn from all of my many mistakes. Someday, that’ll be a book, Every Mistake in the Book.

For now, I hope that this has been helpful for you. And I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me if you’ve had any similar experiences. Let’s collaboratively share our experience, and with the rest of the industry, so we can all experience rising tides lifting all boats.