OJAI (CBSLA) – A woman who saw her Northern California home destroyed in last year’s devastating Camp Fire didn’t think her life could get any worse until she lost her life savings to a wire fraud scam.
After losing her Paradise, Calif., home to the Camp Fire last November, life was finally looking up for Colleen Kahle. She was preparing to buy a picturesque condo in Ojai, the town she grew up in.
“We were finally going to have some permanency,” Kahle told CBS2. “Everything had felt so temporary.”
Like so many of her neighbors, when the Camp Fire swept through, she had just minutes to get out of the longtime home where she had raised her children. The 153,000-acre Camp Fire broke Nov. 8, 2018, and tore through the community of Paradise, destroying 18,804 structures – including nearly 14,000 homes – and claiming 86 lives.
“You never expect to have lost everything,” Kahle said.
“Ash, literally ash, and our railing was all that was left of a 2,000 square foot home with 50 years of memories,” Kahle said.
Kahle moved in with relatives in Ojai. Once her insurance money came in, she decided to buy a two-bedroom condo.
“We were within a week of closing and I got an email from my escrow agent that the sellers wanted to close early,” Kahle said.
The email told her she could save money if she wired the house payment immediately. So she did, making two six-figure wire transfers one day apart.
“$408,000, and it was everything we had,” Kahle said.
The following day, Kahle received a call from her bank, Wells Fargo, letting her know they believed she may have wired the money to a fraudulent account.
“By the time we got to the bank, we had confirmed with the escrow company that the email was not from them,” Kahle said.
The email had the correct names of her escrow officers, the purchase price and the address of the condo. What Kahle didn’t notice was that the sender was using a Gmail address, not the escrow company’s official email.
Ojai police said the thieves likely hacked into the escrow company’s database.
Kahle made a fraud claim with her bank to try and recall the money, but to no avail.
“Which I now know is a request, basically,” Kahle said. “It’s not like they can flip a switch and it’s back.”
She also filed a police report and a criminal complaint with the FBI.
“It’s extremely overwhelming to think that, if that money is gone, I could be homeless,” Kahle said.
Kahle is now back to living with family until she finds out if the authorities can get any of her money back.
“It really makes my heart hurt that someone could be so evil, and I don’t know where we go from here,” Kahle said.
A friend set up a GoFundMe account to help Kahle. For more information, click here.