Scams have unfortunately become an everyday part of our lives. They are becoming more sophisticated and complex, playing on our emotions or being just plain tricky. Some scams are delivered to our email inboxes and can be cleverly disguised or clearly suspect.
The Australian Institute of Conveyancers (SA Division) regularly updates its members on scams which affect the property industry and those which have been clearly targeting us as conveyancers. Recently a number of members have received emails with a ‘contract’ attached and it is becoming increasingly difficult to know the genuine from the fake. These may create situations where the data kept on those computers and servers are vulnerable and subject to being hacked. These cyber- crimes are the new way of scamming money and can be very costly to all parties concerned.
Recent Conveyancing scam in WA
In Western Australia an elderly lady had a significant lost after hackers intercepted an email from her conveyancer/settlement agent. The original email provided the conveyancers bank account details for the deposit of settlement funds. The hackers amended the email to provide their own new bank account number. Unfortunately this was discovered too late and the funds were deposited in the new account, never to be seen again. The lady has not only lost the money, there are legal implications for her because she is not able to settle the property.
Another example was when a real estate agent/property manager had their email account hacked into and tenants were requested to pay the rent and bond payments into a different account than the one they were originally advised. This scam got picked fairly early as the property managers father was one of the tenants and he became suspicious so the amount lost was reasonably small. It could have been a lot worse!!
All incidents were reported to the relevant agencies such as The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and the WA Police Major Fraud Squad. It is not clear if the incidents were linked but it appears they have all been carried out by overseas criminals.
Conveyancers, settlement agents and anyone else dealing with property transactions have been advised to be on high alert.
Buyers, sellers and tenants need to double check any email purporting to be from their real estate agent, conveyancer or settlement agent requesting funds be sent to a bank account.
As the scammers could have hacked into the client’s or the conveyancers/settlement agents email server, it may appear genuine so we recommend that any change is confirmed with a phone call to the previously known number to verify if the request is authentic. Don’t reply to the email or use any numbers provided in the email as you could be communicating with the scammers.
For the property industry, it is important that both clients and conveyancers use the highest possible security software to protect the integrity of their computer systems and email servers.
It is believed the hacking may have occurred as a result of accessing email accounts via public Wi-Fi and consumers and industry professionals are cautioned about the dangers of using emails on open networks such as these when arranging important transactions.
Regular changing of passwords for email and bank accounts and independent verification of requests for changes to bank or contact details should be normal practice.
Property transactions are always going to be a lucrative target for scammers due to the amount of funds being transferred so we all need to exercise extreme vigilance.
Cyber-attacks and scam losses should be reported to Consumer and Business Services by calling 131 882
At McKay Business Services we have systems in place to guard against scams such as this. For a start we always follow up with a telephone call when requesting any funds from our clients to confirm the details. Make sure your conveyancer uses good practices when dealing with your funds!