Agent alert issued following real estate fraud in ACT
24 July 2014
WA authorities have warned real estate and settlement agents to be on high alert following the reported real estate fraud in the ACT.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll believes the criminals responsible will be encouraged by their success to make further fraud attempts.
"Everyone in the property industry, particularly those involved in property management and sales, should have a heightened state of awareness about these fraud attempts. They need to be in a position to detect them soon after initial contact is made and certainly before any documents are sent," Ms Driscoll said.
"Agents need to ensure that they have owner identification processes in place and that all of their staff are properly trained and instructed in what to do when a request to change contact details are made, especially if the owner is based overseas.
"In these cases, a confirmation of the change in contact details should be sent to the owner's original street and email addresses, which will alert the real owner if something is wrong."
Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw of the Major Fraud Squad (WA Police) said there are similarities between the ACT fraud and previous cases in WA.
"There have been two successful and six unsuccessful real estate frauds reported in WA in recent years, all but one have involved properties owned by South Africans. We are assisting ACT authorities in their inquiries by sharing information gathered during our investigation into these past WA cases," Det Snr Sgt Blackshaw said.
"Through our cooperation with the Australian Federal Police and overseas authorities, we have had some success with one man in Nigeria and three people in South Africa arrested over two of these frauds, but this doesn't mean there won't be others who are attempting to do the same.
"With the windfall for a successful real estate fraud being substantial, there will always be criminals attempting to steal an owner's identity and sell their home without their knowledge. So it's imperative that people working in the property industry are vigilant at all times to the warning signs so that these fraud attempts don't reach a successful conclusion."
Landgate has also established fraud prevention measures through the 'Verification of Identity Practice' which is designed to reduce the opportunity for successful land title fraud as a result of identity theft or other improper dealings. The Practice sets out to achieve this by requesting verification of the identity of a person transacting and their authority to deal with an interest in land. The Practice is available the Land Titles Registration Practice Manual on Landgate's website here.
Anti-fraud tips for home owners include:
- Regularly check that your property manager/real estate agent has your current and correct contact details on file.
- Set up a password or secret question that will confirm your identity when dealing with your property manager/agent.
- Provide copies of your 'identification' details when engaging your property manager, so agents are able to compare your details with fraudulent documents that may be presented later.
- Be proactive and ask your property manager/real estate agent/conveyancer how they intend to identify the true owner of the land title they are selling or dealing with. Ask them: do they complete a 100-point check? Do they comply with Landgate's Verification of Identity Practice?
- Ensure that your property manager/agent has a process in place to verify any requests to change your contact details by sending notifications to both the old and new addresses, both physical and electronic.
- Ensure that your property manager/agent has your correct signature on file and that they check signed documents to confirm they match.
- Protect your personal information and prevent identity theft by using secured mailboxes for mail deliveries and shredding or burning letters before disposing of them.
- Be wary of giving your personal and/or financial information to third parties, either by phone or email.
- Regularly change passwords to your email and banking accounts.
- Never click on any links contained in emails from unknown sources.
- Install anti-virus/anti-malware software on your computer and keep it up to date.
- Owner(s) can place a Caveat (Improper Dealings) on their property through Landgate, which means the owner(s) must personally attend Landgate's Midland office and pass an identity check , before that caveat may be removed, which reduces the risk of the title changing hands without the owner(s) knowledge.
- Consider subscribing to Landgate's TitleWatch service, which will alert you if an Electronic Advice of Sale (EAS) is lodged, or documents are lodged, against your Certificate of Title.
- If you are going overseas and selling your property, consider appointing someone trustworthy to act on your behalf as your Power of Attorney; and remember to take with you the relevant original identity documentation so your identity can be verified by an Australian Consular Official.
This statement is in response to a public announcement by ACT Policing.
Landgate is Western Australia's primary source of land information and geographic data, providing the accuracy Government, business and individuals rely on.
Phone: +61 (0)8 9282 0961 or +61 (0)429 078 791
Contact: Phillip Rowell, A/Manager Communications and Media Advisor