Fraud warning for WA property industry

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Property owners and the real estate industry in Western Australia have been warned to be on the lookout for overseas criminals looking to commit property fraud.

The warning comes from WA Consumer Protection, after it reprimanded a real estate agency after a house in the state was almost sold by people imitating the legitimate owner.

Peel Realty Pty Ltd, trading as Raine and Horne Mandurah, its licensee Peter Ronald Vetten and property manager Galinda Hodge were reprimanded following a consumer protection investigation into an attempted property fraud scam in 2014.

The attempted scam saw the fraudsters access the agency’s database in January 2014 and change the email and phone contact details for the South African based owner of a house in the Mandurah suburb of Greenfields.

Those behind the scheme then used the altered details to request the house be sold and an offer on the property was accepted on 4 March 2014.

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 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.

“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,” WA Consumer Protection acting commissioner David Hillyard said.

“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,” Hillyard said.

While the scam ultimately failed, Hillyard said it was still important that the regulator took action against the agency.

“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,” he said

 “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.”

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