Beware - Scammers Targeting Perth Property Sales - Real estate industry bulletin 273
30 January 2024
Beware - Scammers Targeting Perth Property Sales
Consumer Protection is reminding the real estate and settlement industry that identity validation checks are a mandatory part of the sales process, following reports of vacant Western Australian land and property being targeted by scammers using fake ID documents.
Commissioner Tim Banfield wants agents to be on ‘high-alert’ of suspicious activity and says Consumer Protection can prosecute if agents fail to adhere to their Codes of Conduct.
"This type of scam can have devastating consequences for everyone involved,” Mr Banfield said.
“We tightened the real estate and settlement agents Codes a number of years ago to ensure proper identify checks are carried out as the primary means of stopping these scams. Agents cannot afford to cut corners and can face prosecution if they do, not to mention the damage failure could cause to their professional reputation.
“If you cannot physically meet the seller then be on high alert. Legitimate owners will be appreciative of this cautious and inquisitive approach.
“Identity fraud and scams within the property industry are becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to spot, however the onus is clearly on real estate and settlement agents to carry out multiple checks to verify a seller’s identity, especially if a person they are dealing with is unknown, or living overseas.”
The Codes of Conduct for the real estate and settlement industries provide that agents and sales representatives ‘exercise due care, diligence and skill’ when acting in a property transaction and verify the identity of each person who is disposing of real estate in a real estate transaction.
Recently, a Northam landowner discovered his property was being sold by international cyber criminals after contacting a utility provider about redirecting bills to his new home in Canada. The utility responded that this request was unable to be granted as the property was in “dealings”, prompting the owner to contact the real estate agent behind the sale and alert them to the fraud.
“I am alarmed and deeply concerned that the protective measures introduced to stop this type of scam from happening appears to have failed in this instance”, Mr Banfield said.
In another case, scammers produced fraudulent identity documents to pose as the legitimate owners of the property, telling the real estate and settlement agents they were living in South Africa, yet requesting proceeds from the sales be deposited into Vietnamese bank accounts.
The unusual request correctly set alarm bells ringing and led to contact with the Australian Consulate in South Africa to question the ‘seller’s’ identity. The Consulate confirmed the passport provided was fraudulent and verified that their Consulate stamp had been forged.
Real estate agents are reminded that they cannot leave the verification of identity to the settlement agent following the sale of a property. The identify of the seller should be robustly verified at the time of a written authority to sell is signed, especially when agents and sales representatives cannot physically meet their sellers.
ID Validation checklist:
- Insist on meeting the seller in person, if this cannot occur arrange a virtual meeting. If the seller is overseas, use an Australian Embassy Office.
- Be ready to ask qualifying questions that any true owner would know about their property such as:
- How long have you owned the property?
- How much did you pay for the property when you purchased it?
- Which local government precinct is the property located in?
- How much are your rates?
- When did you last pay rates, and can you provide a copy of the rate notice?
- Check all documents are signed and endorsed correctly and match signatures with those that may already be on file from previous transactions. Where possible ensure you sight original documents.
- If official documents look suspicious or originate from overseas have them independently verified by the issuing authority. This could involve contacting the relevant Australian Consulate to confirm the notary’s identity and that they are a genuine member of staff. The Consulate can then confirm they have endorsed an identity correctly.
- If a request for change of address is received for the property, send confirmation to the previous address on record as well.
- Contact the seller or parties involved in the sale to confirm they are actually selling the property and are aware of the process.
- If there is a concern about money being changed into another currency, question why.
To report a scam attempt:
Call Consumer Protection’s WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54 or complete a scam report via www.scamnet.wa.gov.au