Tips to stop scammers selling your house

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CANBERRA’S Office of Regulatory Services has produced a fact sheet on how real-estate agents can prevent property fraud, in the wake of a South African scam coming to town.

They have this advice for homeowners:

    • Regularly check that their property manager/agent has their current and correct contact details on file.
    • Set up a password or secret question that will confirm their identity when dealing with their property manager/agent.
    • Ensure that their property manager/agent has a process in place to verify any requests to change their contact details by sending notifications to both the old and new addresses, both electronic and postal.
    • Ensure that their property manager/agent has their correct signature on file and that they check signed documents to confirm they match.
    • Protect their 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 their personal and/or financial information to third parties, either by phone or email.
    • Regularly change passwords to their email and banking accounts.
    • Never click on any links contained in emails from unknown sources.
    • Install anti-virus/anti-malware software on their computer and keep it up-to-date.

As for real estate agents, they have this advice:

“In order to protect your business from involvement in a possible scam, it is essential that you have a due diligence framework in place which alerts you to potential improper activity or conduct,” the fact sheet says.

“It is imperative to ensure that the person you are dealing with is the real owner of a property.

“You should be especially vigilant if the client is overseas or remote, or if dealings with that person are not face-to-face and unreasonable excuses are given for their unavailability to meet.

Be alert to the following warning signs that may indicate suspicious contact from people other than the owner of a property:

    • A recent change in address or other contact details that has occurred at the time or shortly before receiving instructions to sell a property are received.
    • Contacting an agency via email or phone to request that all future correspondence be sent to a new email address and all contact be made via a new phone number.
    • New email addresses are generic such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail.
    • The transaction involves people located overseas, or documents issued overseas, especially from countries known for scams.
    • There is a request for funds to be sent to a different bank account to that normally used by the client including, but not limited to, offshore accounts.
    • Advice is received that the sale is urgent, for example, because of an overseas investment opportunity.
    • Comments by the ‘vendor’ that, if the sale is successful or quick, future work or other incentives will be provided to you as the agent.
    • The use of poor English and poor grammar which was not apparent in other correspondence from the real owner.
    • Supplying a signature which does not match the copy of an owner’s signature held on your files.
    • Supplying photocopies of a fraudulent passport, driver’s licence or other proof of identity document. These fraudulent documents may feature identical identification photos despite being issued several years apart.

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  1. The hints for homeowners assumes the thief is using an honest and dilligent real estate agent to conduct the sale. If this is not the case all these safequards are eliminated. How did the Titles office ensure they were dealing with the owner who provided 100 points of identification and was present?

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