First home owner dream crushed by $133,000 scam

Scammers stole almost $133,000 from a WA couple through a fake email purporting to be their settlement agent requesting funds. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Scammers stole almost $133,000 from a WA couple through a fake email purporting to be their settlement agent requesting funds. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

A Western Australian couple's dream of buying their first home in Australia has been shattered after scammers stole almost $133,000 after cloning the settlement agent's email address.

The Thornlie couple had their offer on a Piara Waters home accepted and the 32 year old husband, who arrived in Australia from Myanmar in 2006, received an email from whom he thought was the settlement agent asking for a payment of $110,000 and included bank account details.

The email address was almost the same as the settlement agent's, except one letter was added and the .au had been removed. Not realising this, the victim transferred three payments amounting to $110,000 on 15 and 16 December 2020, then made a further payment supposedly for stamp duty of $22,981.40 on 21 December 2020.

Settlement was scheduled for 23 December 2020.

When the victim received an additional email asking for payment of the balance of $480,000, he forwarded the email to his mortgage broker and it was then that the couple discovered they had been scammed, turning their excitement into horror.

The bank could not retrieve the funds and they were forced to withdraw from purchasing the property.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said it was heartbreaking for the couple to lose money that they had worked so hard to save.

"Ruthless criminals who hide behind the anonymity of the internet have little regard for the circumstances of their victims," Ms Chopping said.

"We must ensure that we do not reward their devious efforts by falling for their deceitful tactics.

"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.

"These scams are prevalent in the business community where emails are sent supposedly from suppliers wanting invoice payments sent to another bank account operated by the criminals.

"As property transactions usually involve large amounts of money, these will always be prime targets for scammers.

"People working in the industry and consumers involved in buying or selling property need to be extra vigilant when acting on payment requests.

"Be suspicious of any email asking for a payment of money or advising of a change in bank account details to where payments are to be sent."

Steps to protect yourself when buying a property:

  • Verify the sender of emails requesting payments or changing bank account details by checking that the email address is genuine;
  • Call the sender to confirm the authenticity of the request and the account details, using previously known contact numbers or independently find out with an internet search or go to the agent's website for contact information.
  • It is vitally important not to use contact details contained in the email as they may be fake and put you in touch with the scammers instead of the agent;
  • Better still, go to the agent's office to personally verify the details before completing the transfer or hand over a bank cheque.

"We are currently investigating whether the real estate and settlement agents involved have done what is required of them," the Commissioner said.

"We recommend all agents ensure they have up to date anti-virus protections in place to prevent hackers getting access to their email accounts or computer systems.

"Agents should consider having cyber security insurance policies in place that will protect both them and their clients from the financial fallout of these types of malware hacking attacks.

"Whilst it has been more than a year since the last reported loss from this type of scam, this incident clearly shows that the problem has not vanished.

"We all need to be cyber-aware these days and adopt a very cautious approach to any request for moneys to be paid electronically."

More information on scams is available on the WA ScamNet website.

This story First home owner dream crushed by $133,000 scam first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.