A WA family from Thornlie has had their property dreams shattered when they lost their entire $133,000 house deposit in a cyber-fraud recently. The couple had signed an offer to purchase a property in the southern-Perth suburb of Piara Waters and shortly after received an email purporting to be from their conveyancer requesting payment of $110,000 to a specified bank account.

Over the course of two days in December 2020, the victims transferred $110,000 to the specified account, along with an additional payment of $22,981.40 for transfer duty. When a further email requesting the balance of $480,000 was received from the ‘conveyancer’, the buyer forwarded the email to their finance broker. It was only then that the family discovered the fraud – that they had been scammed out of their entire savings.

The email address where the requests for funds had come from was found to be almost the same as the legitimate conveyancer’s details, however with some small differences – one letter was added and the .au had been removed.

The bank was unable to retrieve the buyer’s funds for them, in part given the time that had elapsed between the buyer making the payments and the scam being discovered. As a result of the fraud, the buyers were forced to withdraw from their purchase of the property.

In a statement, WA Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Lanie Chopping said,

“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.”

The WA property industry has been the target of similar fraud scams (both successful and unsuccessful) many times in recent years.

This latest attack is a reminder for all parties involved in property transactions, but buyers, in particular, to take care when liaising with businesses via email, especially where an exchange of funds is involved.

WA’s Consumer Protection recommends taking the following steps in protecting yourself against cybercrime when buying or selling a property:

  • Verify that the sender of emails requesting payments or changing bank account details is genuine by checking that the email address against legitimate sources (such as letters or the company’s website);
  • Call the sender to confirm the authenticity of the request and the account details, using previously known contact numbers or via the agent’s website for contact information.
  • Do not rely on contact numbers or links contained within the email request as they may be fake and put you in touch with the scammers instead of the legitimate agent;
  • Physically attend your conveyancer’s office to verify the details of the funds transfer or check with your conveyancer whether you are able to deliver a bank cheque to their office.

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