Dream of home ownership shattered after $133,000 scam theft

  • Thornlie couple lose their home purchase savings in a payment redirection scam
  • Settlement agent’s email used by scammers looked almost the same
  • Property buyers and sellers should be suspicious of payment demands by email
  • A Thornlie 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 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. We must ensure that we do not reward their devious efforts by falling for their deceitful tactics,” Ms 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.

    “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 in protecting 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.

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