ACT News


Real estate scams: agents told to conduct more stringent ID checks

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Real estate agents in Canberra are being told to conduct 100 point identification checks and pre-establish security questions with property owners in a bid to thwart future property scams. 

The ACT real estate industry has been sent a property fraud prevention fact sheet after it emerged a Canberra property had been sold without the owner's knowledge while she was living in South Africa. 

ACT Police are now investigating the suspected fraudulent sale of a Macgregor house which is believed to be the first property scam to hit the territory.

The Office of Regulatory Services (ORS) document will be distributed by the Real Estate Institute of the ACT to its members and warns of the need for vigilance to ensure agents verify who they are dealing with. 

Although the advice makes mention of property scams in Western Australia, it does not mention the ACT case which is believed to have occured in recent months. 

The advice warns agents to be suspicious of instances where there may have been a recent change of address or contact details close to a request to sell a property as well as requests for future correspondence to be done through a new email address or phone number.


They should also be wary when new email addresses are generic ones such as from Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail, or if there are requests for funds to be sent to a different bank account. 

Other warning signs include transactions involving people or documents issued overseas or that a sale is urgent.

Agents are also warned that scammers might try to persuade them that if the sale is successful or quick, they will receive future work or other incentives. 

The ORS has also advised agents to conduct a minimum 100-point identity check. The checks should be done face-to-face where possible or in cases where the seller might be overseas, they should have documents sighted at an Australian embassy.

Agents are also advised to verify the seller's identity with original documents as well as legal ownership of the property from an original or certified copy of a primary ownership document, such as a property titles, current rates or land tax notice. 

If there are any doubts about documents, agents should verify them with the issuing authority. 

Property owners are also being advised to regularly check their property managers have their current and correct contact details, set up a password or secret question with their agent and ensure the agent has a process to verify requests to change contact details by sending notifications to both the old and new addresses, including electronic and physical. 

Real Estate Institute of the ACT chief executive Ron Bell said the advice from ORS was comprehensive and had been developed with the assistances of authorities in WA. 

"I understand they've been assisted by the WA people over the difficulties they've had and what's happened to them," he said. 

"It provides excellent information for not only our industry but for vendors and for people who have investment properties."

Mr Bell said much of the advice could be implemented by the industry relatively easily. 

"They've got to be vigilant - you can normally smell something when it's going wrong. If somebody is trying to sell or buy something from overseas, I think the flags have got to go up and I think they've got to ask a lot more questions," he said.