Hackers stole $25,000 in Kelly’s home deposit. then they kept emailing

A woman walks past a real estate agent's window advertising houses for sale

The scammers’ first email to Kelly and her husband came in the small hours of the night, while they were sleeping.

“Due to an ongoing bank audit on our account,” the email read, “please see attached our subsidiary trust account details for payment of a $25,000 deposit.”

The email address seemed legitimate – it was from a real estate agent.

Kelly and her husband, both young engineers and “tech-savvy”, were on the receiving end of buying a house in Western Australia.

And so the next day, Kelly’s husband sent his heard earnings to a scammer, and never saw that money again.

Property settlement scams are becoming more common as home prices rise and scammers turn their attention to large and often lightly guarded funds that potential buyers are transferring to the trust accounts of real estate agents and conveyors.

Known as “payment redirection,” this is part of a class of scams called “business email compromises,” where criminals hack into an employee’s email account and then, impersonating that employee, create their own Send a payment request, substituting bank account details.

Victims are individual home buyers or small business owners for whom the consequences of a lost deposit are disastrous.

Six months later, Kelly and her husband have yet to tell their parents or their friends that they have been cheated on.

“It’s been very, very stressful,” Kelly said.

Real estate scams on the rise in 2022

According to national data, many other people are also falling in the grip of this scam.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Scamwatch receives an average of two reports per week of payment redirection scams in real estate.

March 2022 alone saw 14 reports – the highest figure in 15 months.

“Twenty-five reports were made this year, which is a 25 percent increase over the same period in 2021, and losses this year increased by 186 percent to $1.8 million,” an ACCC spokesperson said.

NSW, which has the most expensive property market in the country, accounted for three-quarters of the $4.3 million lost through the scam nationwide from January 2021 to the end of March 2022.

Norwood.  Auction Of A House In
A 10 percent deposit on a median home in Sydney is $160,000 – an increase of $40,000 in 12 months.,ABC News: Michael Kogan,

Chris Tyler, chief executive officer of the NSW division of the Australian Institute of Conveyors (AICNSW), says buyers are being targeted.

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The fraudsters have also used payment redirection to scam the stamp duty, which a consignor intended to transfer to the state’s revenue, he says.

“Because the value of property transactions is so high, all parties in the transaction are being targeted: real estate agents, mortgage brokers, carriers.

“Half the time deposit could be a couple million dollars.”

‘House prices have gone up’

The Sydney law firm of Clyde & Company’s cyber incident response team handles several business email settlement (BEC) incidents each week.

“We’ve seen growth in the last three or four months,” said Reece Corbett-Wilkins, a member of the response team.

Although less “sexy” than ransomware, BEC is just as big a problem, he says.

Clyde & Company saw a 150 percent increase in reported BEC incidents from 2018 to 2021.

In some cases, the loss is huge – a client of a client misdirected a recent $750,000 transaction.



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