In March, computer criminals broke into the network of Redondo Beach based Village View Escrow Inc. and sent 26 consecutive wire transfers to 20 individuals around the world who had no legitimate business with the firm.
Owner Michelle Marisco said her financial institution at the time — Professional Business Bank of Pasadena, Calif. – normally notified her by e-mail each time a new wire was sent out of the company’s escrow account. But the attackers apparently disabled that feature before initiating the fraudulent wires.
The thieves also defeated another anti-fraud measure: A requirement that two employees sign off on any wire requests. Marisco said that a few days before the theft, she opened an e-mail informing her that a UPS package she had been sent was lost, and urging her to open the attached invoice. Nothing happened when she opened the attached file, so she forwarded it on to her assistant who also tried to view it. The invoice was in fact a Trojan horse program that let the thieves break in and set up shop and plant a password-stealing virus on both Marisco’s computer and the PC belonging to her assistant, the second person needed to approve transfers.
As a guarantor of payment for residential real estate transactions, Village View Escrow holds other peoples’ money until the sale of a property is complete. Failure to come up with the funds when a real estate deal is finalized can spell bankruptcy and possibly worse for an escrow provider. Since the incident, Marisco has had to take out a $395,000 loan at 12 percent to cover the loss (she managed to get $70,000 in wires reversed).
“I’m working for nothing right now, and can’t afford to pay myself,” Marisco said in a phone interview.
Officials from Professional Business Bank did not immediately return calls seeking comment.