Three arrested over another real estate fraud attempt

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ConsumerProperty industry

Three people have been arrested and charged by South African Police in connection with the attempted fraudulent sale of a home in Western Australia.

Two Nigerian men and a South African woman were arrested in Johannesburg on 2 July 2014. The arrests follow a five month intensive investigation by the Major Fraud Squad of the Western Australia Police, with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) who worked closely with the South African authorities.

Those charged are: Asanda Zimkhitha Cwayi (28), a South African woman; Magnus Ikechukwu Kamah (38), a Nigerian man; and Nbubusi Sunday Okeke (34), also a Nigerian man. All suspects are charged with fraud, forgery and uttering. They are due to appear in Court on 4 July 2014.

It will be alleged that the Mandurah real estate agency (south of Perth), which was managing the Greenfields property on behalf of its South African owner, received an email from the offenders in mid-February 2014 pretending to be the real owner and successfully changing the contact email address the agency had on file. Two weeks later, a request to sell the property was received; agreements were signed with forged signatures and exchanged electronically. The property was then put on the market.

It will be further alleged that, in March 2014, an offer was made on the property and accepted by the pretend owner. As a result of the offer, documents were sent by the agency to the real owner’s address in South Africa by post. While the email address had been changed, the physical address on file was not. The real owner alerted the agent that the sale was not authorised and the Police were contacted.

Major Fraud Squad Detectives were able to work with the agency, a local settlement agent and Police in South Africa to identify and apprehend the offenders.

In August 2013, Ntuen Promise Ekenmini was arrested in Nigeria over a separate fraud attempt when he collected documents related to a supposed settlement of a home in Falcon, also near Mandurah, which was owned by a South African. It’s alleged Ekenmeni used a fake driver’s licence in the name of the real owner as identification when collecting the documents at an international courier office in Lagos.

Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw of the Major Fraud Squad (WA Police) said the recent arrests in South Africa were yet another victory in the fight against international fraud.

“This successful outcome could not have been made possible without the excellent support and cooperation of the AFP and local authorities in South Africa,” Det Snr Sgt Blackshaw said.

“This spirit of cooperation means that offenders who attempt these frauds can’t hide behind international borders, and we will be working effectively and cooperatively to make sure they are identified and caught.”

Australian Federal Police spokesperson, Superintendent Graeme Marshall, said the successful outcome of the joint operation was the result of strong and effective cooperation between South African and Australian authorities.

“The AFP and its partners are committed to combatting crimes that cross international boundaries” Superintendent Marshall said.

“Operations such as this, which spanned two continents, highlight the effectiveness of Australian agencies in working together and are an excellent example of the power of law enforcement collaboration against transnational crime.”

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said real estate and settlement agents cannot afford to let their guard down when it comes to these fraud attempts.

“Unfortunately these fraud attempts will undoubtedly continue so all agents need to be vigilant at all times and have the processes in place to detect these fraud attempts at an early stage,” Ms Driscoll said.

“It is an essential part of the identity verification procedures for any change of contact details by an owner to be confirmed by the real estate agency by sending a notification to the original addresses, both physical and electronic, that are on file. This will alert the real owners at an early stage if their details are being changed fraudulently.

“This confirmation should occur before any documents are sent which could give criminals even more information about the real owners and the property they are trying to sell. Requests to change details by owners of WA property living in Africa should raise a red flag and warrant special attention to property managers.

“There have been two successful and now six attempted real estate frauds reported to us in the past six years and all except for one of those cases have involved owners in South Africa. The other owner resided in Nigeria. Property managers who receive change of contact details and agents who receive sale requests from South African and Nigerian owners should apply intense scrutiny.

“All real estate and settlement agents have a clear obligation to ensure that they carry out the identity verification checks required of them under the Codes of Conduct, and signatures should also be checked against originals on property management files. Failing to comply with these strict requirements will leave agents open to disciplinary action by the Department.”

END OF RELEASE

Media Contacts:

Consumer Protection

WA Police Media (+61-8) 9222 1011 police.media@police.wa.gov.au

National Media - Australian Federal Police  (+61-2) 6131 6333 afpnationalmedia@afp.gov.au

Consumer Protection
Media release
04 Jul 2014

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