A house in Canberra’s north was recently sold through a South African real estate scam without the owner’s knowledge.
No one had any idea anything was out of the ordinary until the owner, who lived in South Africa, contacted the real estate agent to find out why her rental payments had stopped.
Apparently her property manager in the A.C.T. had sold the house four months earlier through a series of emails and posted documents. There was no face to face contact.
In response Ron Bell, Real Estate Institute ACT chief executive, urges agents to be vigilant as with all the technology available fraud has become easier and the numbers of fraud attempts are growing.
“Agents need to ask a lot of questions, particularly when it is an overseas buyer or seller,” he said.
“When everything is in written communication, via email, and email addresses are changing, you can start to feel something is going on.
“People should verify signatures and verify the material that has been given to them and they can do that through any [Australian] Embassy that is overseas.”
Unfortunately for the owner, in situations like this the real estate agent has no liability because they followed their instructions to sell.
I bet you’re thinking ‘how did this happen?’
Well… surprisingly this isn’t the first time.
In W.A. there have been 6 attempts and 2 successful transactions by scammers to exchange properties since 2010.
However, it’s the first scam of it’s kind to happen in the ACT and now a checklist has been sent to all real estate agents in the ACT outlining what to do when owners ask via email for a property to be sold.
Maybe they should send this to all real estate agents across Australia as I’d assume the scammers would cross WA and ACT off their list and move onto other states.
The Canberra Times reports the following details:
Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw from WA Police’s Major Fraud Squad has been heavily involved in the WA investigations. He says fraudsters will go to elaborate lengths to carry out the sophisticated scams.
Although he was unaware of the ACT case, he said it seemed South Africa was heavily linked to the WA scams and it appeared victims were targeted either through stolen mail or from their computer being hacked.
He said the scammers would typically contact the property manager, pretending to be the real owner and request a change to their contact details.
He said scammers would “groom” the agents, often using forged documents that look legitimate to the average person.
“It’s a process of research and learning and they’re doing that through the agents and trying to find out as much as they can to get documents that maybe have signatures of the owners, lease agreements, that sort of thing,” he said.
“Once they’ve armed themselves with that, then they go to the selling agent and use those documents to try and validate that they are the true owner.
“Generally what we’ve found is these properties haven’t been mortgaged. There is a title deed, but they’ve come up with reasons why they may not be able to produce them. One was that the owner had died, but they produced a death certificate. Any document that’s required or asked for by the selling agent has been produced.”
He said in the WA cases, the agents had acted in good faith and sold the properties to innocent purchasers. For the real owners, the only recourse was to seek compensation from the WA government.
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