The new owners of a Macgregor property sold by overseas fraudsters did not know they had become embroiled in an international real estate scam.
It is believed the original property owner was living in South Africa when scammers sold her property without her knowledge. She made the shocking discovery that her house had been sold about four months earlier after contacting her property manager to ask why she was not receiving rental payments.
A government spokesman said ACT police would contact "the parties involved as part of their ongoing investigation". He said registered real estate purchases made in good faith were protected by the ACT Land Titles Act.
A spokeswoman said in a statement after consulting with South African police that ACT police had taken control of the investigation to determine how the owner was defrauded of her home.
"Police will investigate a series of exchanges which led to the sale of the property without the owner's knowledge or consent and the disbursement of the funds generated by the deception," the spokeswoman said.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell said he understood the title of the Macgregor property had been legally transferred, which meant
"Clearly that transfer has been affected due to what would appear, on the surface at least, a fraudulent act and that's now under investigation by the police and by the Office of Regulatory Services," he said.
Mr Corbell said the role of the ACT Registrar-General was to register the transfer of land titles from one property owner to another but "ascertaining the bona fides of people" seeking the transfer was the responsibility of the conveyancing solicitor and the real estate agent.
Archie Tsirimokos, managing partner of Canberra-based commercial law firm Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers, said it was unlikely the property owner who was defrauded would be able to get the house back.
"They may be able to claim damages, including from the ACT government, despite the fact that the government are not likely at fault," he said.
"The presumably innocent buyer of the home is now the registered proprietor and is entitled to keep the home."
Mr Tsirimokos said Australia had a system of land title whereby a register is maintained by the government and guaranteed "indefeasible title to those included in the register".
"It also provides compensation mechanisms for loss where there are certain errors. This is so that our community can rely upon the information contained in the register," he said.
A Justice and Community Safety Directorate spokeswoman said the Land Titles Act provided a range of protections for sellers and buyers who acted in good faith in undertaking property transactions.
"The nature of any cause of action depends on a range of issues, including the individual circumstances of the fraudulent transaction," she said.
She said while the ACT case was being investigated by police, it was not possible to speculate on what future action might be available to affected parties.
Mr Tsirimokos said such property scams were extremely rare and, without knowing the full facts, it was too early to say whether the property industry should review its practices to minimise the risk of it recurring.
The scam comes after two successful fraudulent property sales and six attempts in Western Australia.
"We are reminding real estate agents and solicitors that it is critical that they identify that the person seeking to sell the property is the actual and proper owner of the property," Mr Corbell said.
A fact sheet on property fraud prevention will be published on the Office of Regulatory Services website and distributed by ACT Real Estate Institute members. The office is also expected to write to all licensed agents.
Anyone who suspects they may be the victim of a scam should contact police on 131 444.
Do you know more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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