Reprimand for agency targeted in attempted property fraud (Peel Realty Pty Ltd / Peter Vetten / Galinda Hodge)
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A Mandurah real estate agency, its licensee and property manager have been reprimanded by the State Administrative Tribunal for initially failing to take proper preventative measures after being targeted in an attempted property fraud.
Peel Realty Pty Ltd, trading as Raine and Horne Mandurah, its licensee Peter Ronald Vetten and property manager Galinda Hodge were reprimanded for failing to exercise due skill, care and diligence when contact details of a South African-based client were changed following the receipt of an email which had actually been sent by overseas criminals.
Consumer Protection began disciplinary action following an investigation into the attempt to fraudulently sell a Greenfields home. In January 2014 the fraudsters were successful in getting the email and phone contact details of the real owner changed in the agency’s database and there was no attempt to verify the update using the owner’s original email address or phone number.
The fraudsters purporting to be the owner requested the property be sold and a subsequent offer made on the property on 4 March 2014 was accepted. The attempted fraud was uncovered on 6 March 2014 when the real owner received a copy of the listing agreement that the agency had sent to her home address in South Africa and the pending sale was stopped prior to settlement.
The matter was immediately reported by the real estate agent to WA Police who, in conjunction with the real estate agent and a local settlement agent, continued with a mock settlement of the property. Three people allegedly involved in the fraud attempt were later arrested by South African Police.
Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard said property fraud attempts such as this one should be detected at first contact, not later in the process when the property is at risk of being sold.
“Property fraud attempts can be stopped at the first stage of contact if real estate agents follow the Commissioner’s fraud prevention guidelines,” Mr Hillyard said.
“We commend the agency for their quick action once the scam was discovered, as well as their cooperation with the Police investigation, but the disciplinary action was taken in order to emphasise the importance of real estate and settlement agencies detecting these scam attempts at the very beginning and not later in the process.
“We don’t want scammers to get a foot in the door when attempting to carry out a fraudulent sale of a property, so agents are reminded to verify the identity of the owners before they accept and put into action any request to change contact details of owners, particularly if they are based overseas or interstate.
“Verification of identity procedures are critical requirements for key staff working in real estate and settlement agencies, so there should be no excuse for these fraud attempts not to be detected immediately upon initial contact being made.
“With potentially huge financial gains to be made from a successful sale, there is no doubt that there will be more attempts by overseas criminals to carry out property fraud in Western Australia. Agents therefore need to be vigilant at all times and ensure anti-fraud measures are in place in their agency’s day to day operations.”
Guidelines to real estate and settlement agents regarding property fraud and their verification of identity obligations is available on the Consumer Protection website or enquiries can be made by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1300 30 40 54.
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