Scams and Fraud have unfortunately become an everyday part of our lives. They are becoming more sophisticated and complex and the people conducting them more determined. Emails or messages that get sent look genuine. The basic two rules are – NEVER give your bank details or passwords to anyone. Often these scammers will tell you that this is urgent or you will lose your house or money if you don’t give them whatever information they ask for immediately! If this happens to you apply the second rule; Contact the relevant institution or person directly yourself; do not reply to any numbers or email address on the suspicious communication – find the number yourself by looking it up or calling them on a previously used one. We, as Conveyancers will NEVER ask for your bank details by email or phone. Do not call back the number or reply to the suspicious email or communication; find the number yourself or if you are really worried call the police!
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.
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, but faces legal implications for her because she is now 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 luckily happened to be one of the tenants and became suspicious so the amount lost was reasonably small. But can you imagine if he wasn’t – people could have unwittingly paid months of rent into an account that they were unlikely to get back and then their rent would still have had to be paid –
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 throw any paperwork away without first removing or obscuring any personal or account details.
Don’t let anyone know your passwords or bank details.
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 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.
At McKay Business Services we have tested systems in place to guard against scams such as this to protect both us and our clients. We always follow up with a telephone call when requesting any funds from our clients to confirm the details, our emails have information informing you that that we do not request funds or ask for your bank details by email or message. Someone will always be available to discuss any correspondence you have received or any issues that may concern you. Make sure your conveyancer uses good practices when dealing with your funds and does not dismiss you – we all need to work together to stop these incidents.
Confirmed or suspected Cyber-attacks and scam losses should be reported to Consumer and Business Services by calling 131 882, Police 131 444, Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000 or National Security Hotline 1800 123 400 and if you feel unsafe at any time call 000.
The team at McKay Business Services are all members of the AICSA and are proud Adelaide conveyancers