Scam prevention and changes to mutual recognition laws - Real estate industry bulletin 238

This publication is for: 
Licence holdersProperty industry

21 January 2021

In this issue:

  • Recent impersonation scams affecting the property industry
  • Changes to mutual recognition laws

Impersonation scams affecting the property industry

Consumer Protection has recently become aware of the re-emergence of two online impersonation scams that affect the property industry.

Payment redirection scam

Payment redirection scams, such as the one outlined in our recent media statement, stem from a larger cybercrime referred to as Business Email Compromise where cybercriminals impersonate a business to trick people into transferring money or sensitive information. Scammers do this by gaining remote access to an email account or using an email address that appears legitimate and almost identical to the trusted business email address. The scammer sends what appears to be a legitimate email request for sensitive information or payment to a new updated bank account.

Fake real estate listings

This involves scammers hijacking a genuine sales or rental listing by changing the contact information, and placing the modified advert on a different advertising site. The scammers often steal their material from real estate websites before including it as their own adverts on ‘free’ listing websites such as Gumtree.

Reduce the risk of these impersonation scams

It is important for agencies to establish secure practises that reduce a cybercriminal’s ability to intercept communications and financial transactions for their own financial gain.

To manage the risk of a payment redirection scam, consider:

  • Using up-to-date antivirus software to regularly scan your computer and mobile devices for malware.
  • Protecting your email, accounting and other systems with two factor authentication.
  • Monitoring your network, accounts and communication channels for any suspicious activity.
  • Backing up your business data off site and offline.
  • Educating your staff and clients about the importance of being aware of hackers, scams and cybercriminal activity that could affect your business.
  • Using a business grade hosted email service that includes quality filtering to block dangerous emails, spam, phishing and malicious content or attachments.
  • Providing your clients with your agency’s payment details when completing the appointment to act or purchase documents.
  • Alternative options to receiving payments, such as setting up a PayID account with your financial institution using your ABN.
  • Establishing verification processes for clients – such as advising them that bank accounts will not change during their transaction; or that notification of changes will not occur by email; or providing details of the agency’s nominated individual they can telephone or see in person to check any requests received.
  • When responding to an email, use the forward button instead of reply and manually type the email address previously provided.

To reduce the risk of your real estate listings being hijacked, try:

  • Placing watermarks over the pictures placed online. This reduces the ability of scammers to republish the pictures on different platforms.
  • Regularly searching for addresses of listed properties online to see if they appear on another site.
  • Doing regular reverse image searches, using Google images or TinEye, of the advertised photos to check if they are on another site.

If you discover an unlawfully advertised listing of a property, you should report the matter immediately to the hosting website to have the advert removed. Sites such as Gumtree provide a ‘report this ad’ button on each advert.

We encourage agencies to obtain cyber insurance that adequately protects their business from internet-based risks, such as impersonation scams.

Fraud guidance notes under review

We are currently reviewing the cause and effect of scams and fraud that affect the property industry. Part of this review will include updating our guidance notes, materials and advice to you. We will provide updated information when it is available.

Be proactive and stay informed

There are a number of online resources available to help you safeguard your data and processes.

The following sites offer scam alert subscriptions to keep you informed:

  • Consumer Protection’s WA ScamNet site offers scam reporting, information and tips for prevention.
  • The Australian Government’s Australian Cyber Security Centre site contains advice for businesses and consumers.
  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) ScamWatch site identifies types of scams and where to get help.
  • ACCC’s Small Business Information Network provides emails about new and updated resources, law changes, events and scams relevant to the small business sector.

You can have your say on changes to the mutual recognition laws

The Australian Government is seeking input on draft laws to enable automatic mutual recognition (AMR) of registered occupations, such as real estate agents and sales representatives, across states and territories.

AMR aims to boost workforce mobility by allowing someone who is licensed or registered in one jurisdiction to be considered registered to perform the same job elsewhere, without the need for detailed application processes or additional registration fees.

You can have your say on the changes to the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (Cth) by Friday 12 February 2021.

More information on draft changes and how to submit a response is available on the Occupational Mobility consultation webpage

Consumer Protection
Last updated 21 Jan 2021

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