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Home owners scammed by ‘ruthless criminals’

by Sarah Buckley4 minute read

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The WA government has issued a warning surrounding a new scam that targets home buyers.

According to Consumer Protection WA (part of the government of Western Australia’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety) home buyers are being targeted by “ruthless criminals” posing as settlement agents and other parties involved in the home buying process.

WA Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Lanie Chopping, revealed a recent case where a first-home-buyer couple from Thornlie were scammed out of $133,000 and were only made aware of the scam after discussions with their mortgage broker.

The couple were reportedly anticipating to settle on their new home in Piara Waters and received an email from a person whom the husband believed to be the settlement agent, asking for a payment of $110,000 into a specific bank account.

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The email address was found to be very similar to the settlement agent’s, except one letter was added and the .au had been removed. 

Not realising this, the victim transferred three payments amounting to $110,000 on 15 and 16 December 2020, then made a further payment, which was said to be for stamp duty, of $22,981.40 on 21 December 2020. 

Settlement was scheduled for 23 December 2020. However, when the settlement agent chased the couple for the balance payment, the couple contacted their mortgage broker and the scam was uncovered.

The bank was reportedly unable to retrieve the funds and the couple were unable to purchase the property.

Ms Chopping said it was “heartbreaking” for the couple to lose money that they had worked so hard to save.

“Ruthless criminals who hide behind the anonymity of the internet have little regard for the circumstances of their victims. We must ensure that we do not reward their devious efforts by falling for their deceitful tactics,” Ms Chopping said.

The commissioner warned: “Payment redirection or ‘man in the middle’ scams are becoming all too common with email accounts being hacked and cloned, with demands for money being made in situations where the victims may be expecting to receive such a request, so are less likely to question it.”

Ms Chopping added that the department was currently investigating whether the real estate and settlement agents involved “have done what is required of them”, and recommended all relevant parties to ensure they have “up-to-date anti-virus protections in place to prevent hackers getting access to their email accounts or computer systems”.

She suggested that “people working in the [home buying] industry”, as well as consumers, should be “extra vigilant when acting on payment requests” and always be “suspicious of any email asking for a payment of money or advising of a change in bank account details to where payments are to be sent”.

Consumer Protection has issued the following steps to reducing the likelihood of falling victim to scams: 

  • Verify the sender of emails requesting payments or changing bank account details by checking that the email address is genuine;
  • Call the sender to confirm the authenticity of the request and the account details, using previously known contact numbers or independently find out with an internet search or go to the agent’s website for contact information;
  • Visit the agent’s office in person to verify the details before completing the transfer or hand over a bank cheque.

A similar successful scam was last reported in WA 14 months ago

The commissioner outlined that as “this incident clearly shows that the problem has not vanished”, she concluded that everyone should be “cyber-aware” and “adopt a very cautious approach to any request for money to be paid electronically”. 

Indeed, scammer’s efforts have not waned since 2019, with the latest offences reported in September 2020 – a total of $300,000 from unsuspecting Australians unknowingly renting fake properties. 

[Related: ACCC issues warning over rental scammers]


Home owners scammed by ‘ruthless criminals’
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