MasterChef finalist caught in conveyancer hack recovers half her money, but could still be homeless
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MasterChef finalist caught in conveyancer hack recovers half her money, but could still be homeless

A MasterChef finalist has recovered half of the $250,000 she had stolen while settling her house using Australia’s new online conveyancing system, but she and her family could still be left without a home to live in.

The theft has left the system's operators scrambling to close down security flaws.

The former MasterChef contestant, Dani Venn, and her husband Chris Burgess were left homeless last week when $250,000 from the settlement of her recently sold Melbourne property was stolen by hackers who set up third party accounts to breach the fledgling electronic property transfer system Property Exchange Australia (PEXA).

Ms Venn’s bank, the Commonwealth Bank, was able to freeze $138,000 of the funds, but the hackers who entered the system via her conveyancer’s account made off with the remainder.

“The $110,000 is missing and it’s not recoverable,” she said.

Dani Venn with husband Chris Burgess and their children.

Dani Venn with husband Chris Burgess and their children.

Photo: Chris Hopkins
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The couple, who have two young children, are now unable to pay the vendors of a new house they were supposed to be buying on the Mornington Peninsula and may lose their deposit.

Ms Venn was unsure when, or if, the the stolen funds would be returned. The theft will be the subject of an insurance claim by her conveyancer Sargeants Knox Conveyancing whose emails were hacked.

“It could be months, it could be longer. We don’t know,” she said.

PEXA is working to close the security flaw, but the company denied that it would affect its planned $1 billion public listing on the Australian stock exchange.

“While the PEXA system itself wasn’t hacked, we have begun work with the network, developing additional alerts and processes to further enhance confidence in the system,” acting chief executive James Ruddock said.

“These isolated incidents are not indicative of broader systemic risk and have no bearing on any potential change in PEXA’s ownership structure.”

The hackers broke into Ms Venn’s conveyancer, accessed emails from PEXA and added themselves in the PEXA system as another user.

In a similar case three weeks ago, fraudsters fleeced an unsuspecting Surrey Hills home owner in Melbourne's east of more than $1 million during the settlement period.

A portion of those funds have also gone missing, but it is understood the bulk of the money will be returned to the property vendor after the bank was alerted and the funds frozen.

Ms Venn and Mr Burgess sold their Smiths Gully home on June 15.

Their conveyancer was finalising the transfer of the property title and funds last week in the PEXA system when the hackers struck, switching Ms Venn's bank details with their own account.

PEXA said the system’s electronic key and password protection meant it was ultimately the conveyancers responsibility to check and sign off on all details of a transaction.

Ms Venn has received multiple offers of money and free accommodation from friends and strangers after Fairfax Media reported her situation and has started a GoFundMe page for help.

“We are living every family’s worst nightmare,” she said.

“If they think the system is safe, then why can’t they guarantee the process like banks do and give our money back unconditionally?”

Australia is midway through converting from the 150-year-old Torrens title paper system of exchanging property, to electronic certificates.

Thousands of land titles are now transacted and exchanged on the PEXA system, which is owned by state governments, the ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac, Macquarie Bank, private equity and property developer Paul Little.

Property Editor at The Age and BusinessDay journalist for Fairfax's theage.com.au, smh.com.au, watoday.com.au and brisbanetimes.com.au.

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