A would-be homeowner has lost more than $700,000 in a single click.
The West Australian woman was in the process of purchasing a property in Beaconsfield in April when she received an email from someone she thought was her settlement agent.
The emailer had sent through authentic-looking documents and asked that she deposit the money into a bank account prior to settlement. The message came via a generic Hotmail email address that used the agency’s name.
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It was only when the real settlement agent reminded the buyers about making the payment prior to carrying out the final property inspection that the scam was uncovered.
By then, it was too late. She lost about $732,000.
It’s a common sting known as “payment-redirection” scams which usually target high-value financial transactions such as real estate purchases and business contracts.
In this case, scammers had managed to intercept communications between the woman and her settlement agent. The scammers had then sent the buyer a fake email, substituting the bank account details with one that they control.
The woman is one of nine victims in Western Australia alone this year who have reported losing a total of $1,015,129 to payment-redirection scams, three of which were involved in property transactions.
In 2021, 37 victims reported losing a total of $1,013,278, with eight victims and $168,000 in losses involved in property transactions. Only two victims recovered $287,407 of their losses.
WA Consumer Protection Executive Director Trish Blake urged all Australians to be suspicious of any email asking for a payment or advising of a change in bank account details to where payments are to be sent.
“These scams usually involve the hacking into someone’s email account or computer system but it can be difficult to determine exactly where the hack has occurred,” Blake said.
“The hackers may have successfully guessed the password or installed spyware or malware on computers or laptops after recipients open attachments or click on links in scam emails.
“The losses from these scams can be extremely devastating to the victims who may have lost their home deposit that they have been saving for many years and may not be able to buy the home of their dreams. Or it may be a business doing it tough that can least afford to lose such a large amount of money.”
Australians are reminded to verify the sender of emails, be particularly suspicious if the message comes via a generic email service provider such as Gmail or Hotmail, call the sender to confirm the authenticity of a request using contact information from an official website and consider setting up multi-factor authentication on all online accounts.