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Consumer & Business Advice
Media releases
23 October 2017

A sophisticated cyber scam targeting consumers in the real estate sector has reached South Australia, with two clients losing a total of $900,000 to scammers.

It’s prompted a warning from South Australia’s consumer watchdog and peak industry bodies, urging people involved in the real estate sector to be vigilant – especially when being encouraged to make payments via email.

Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said scammers have been hacking emails of real estate agents, conveyancers and clients to gain sensitive information.

“The scammers then send an email to the client, purporting to be from their agent, asking for payment to a specific bank account,” he said.

“These emails look like the real thing and it’s easy for consumers to be lulled into a false sense of security.

“Already, two South Australian consumers have lost about $900,000 to these scams, and a third narrowly avoided transferring $100,000 in settlement funds to a scammer.

“This number will grow unless both consumers and the sector exercise more caution.”

The cyber attacks followed three similar cases in Western Australia where fraudsters managed to scam more than half a million dollars from clients by sending emails that appeared to be from property or settlement agencies.

“Awareness is critical here, and there are steps our members can take to protect both themselves and their clients from these unscrupulous individuals,” Real Estate Institute of South Australia Chief Executive Greg Troughton said.

“On the prevention side, extra steps and checks should be put in place and we have asked our members to review their processes of accepting money into trust accounts via EFT.

“As a cure, we are urging our members to ensure their cybercrime insurance policies are reflective of their current risks especially given multiple of hundreds of thousands of dollars are involved.

“But prevention is always better than a cure.”

The Chief Executive of the Australian Institute of Conveyancers Rebecca Hayes said the sector needed to “exercise extreme caution”.

“With large amounts of money involved in property transactions, they are a profitable and all too easy target for scammers who will attempt to intercept the payments,” she said.

“Preferably, conveyancers and real estate agents will not advise account details to clients via email.

“However, vendors and purchasers should be vigilant and double check any email purporting to be from their conveyancer or real estate agent requesting funds be sent to a bank account.

“As the scammers could have hacked into the client’s or the conveyancers/real estate agent’s email server, the email may appear genuine so we recommend that the details are confirmed with a phone call to authenticate the request.

“It is important that you don’t reply to the email or use any numbers provided in the email as you could be walking straight into the scammers’ trap.”

Mr Soulio encouraged agents and conveyancers to take all necessary steps to maintain the security of their computer systems and email servers to minimize any risk of their data being compromised.

“Consumers need to be especially vigilant, too, and verify banking details and other information directly with the agent before any transaction is initiated,” he said.

“For the cost of one phone call, you can ensure you’re not losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to calculating scammers.”

To report a cyber attack or loss to a scam, contact Consumer and Business Services on 131 882.