Seller/Buyer beware THE sale of a Karrinyup home without the owner’s knowledge by a Nigerian scammer has prompted an investigation by five government agencies and a warning to real estate agents to beware of fraud.

Roger Mildenhall, 64, was living in South Africa when his $485,000 Perth property was sold in June by someone posing as him.
The money is gone, but WA’s Registrar of Titles Bruce Roberts said Mr Mildenhall would be able to apply for compensation for his losses.

The Commercial Crime Division of WA Police, Consumer Protection, Landgate, the Real Estate and Business Agents Supervisory Board (REBA) and the Settlement Agents Supervisory Board (SASB) have joined forces to investigate the fraudulent sale and consider measures aimed at minimising the risk of a repeat occurrence.

Similarities to an attempted fraudulent sale of a West Perth apartment in 2008 will also be studied as part of the extensive review.

REBA Chairman Mark Cuomo said real estate agents had reported several other cases of attempted fraud recently and the number could rise.

“The fraud attempts might increase after the success of the Karrinyup case,” Mr Cuomo said.

“All real estate agents must now be increasingly vigilant against these types of scam attempts and carry out extra checks to verify an owner’s identity, particularly those who are selling local property while overseas.

“It would be an effective fraud-prevention practice that, if a property owner changes their postal or email address, they should send a confirmation to the old address to make sure the new address is genuine. Similarly, if phone and fax numbers change, try the old number to double check.

“We would also suggest to agents to ask questions of absentee owners that only the real owner would know, perhaps about the last sale or characteristics of the property.”

“Agents could also consider asking for selling fees up front, as scammers will most likely be discouraged from pursuing the sale or will make up excuses as to why they can’t pay them.

“The onus, however, is on the agent to exercise due diligence in these situations and to be extra vigilant. It is imperative that agents adequately manage the risks involved in these sales, and, ultimately, if there is any doubt, they should report their suspicions to the proper authorities and not proceed with the transaction.”

Officer-in-charge of the Major Fraud Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Don Heise said both these cases involved scammers from Nigeria with possible collaborators in South Africa.

“It appears there was an interception of the landowner’s mail in South Africa, where the fraudsters stole his identity and falsified a number of documents. These were then sent to the relevant real estate agent in Perth,” Det Snr Sgt Heise said.

Characteristics of the 2010 successful scam that could be a warning to absentee home owners, real estate agents and settlement agents are:

· Notification of a change of contact details, email and postal addresses of the property owner prior to the sale request;

· Sale was communicated as urgent for business or other personal reasons;

· Promise of future sales through the agent as an incentive to cooperate with a speedy sale and settlement;

· Documents from Notary Public in Nigeria, verifying documents and identity;

· Request for a short-term loan before settlement;

· English in some of the correspondence very basic or poor.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said scams are now becoming more professional and more elaborate.

“The forging of signatures and the production of fake documents is, in some cases, highly professional so these scam attempts may not be so easily spotted. It’s important that all businesses have a system in place to verify the legitimate owner before money changes hands, especially if the person they are dealing with is unknown to them and comes from overseas.”

A checklist of what agents should consider includes:

· Check signatures with those that may already be on file from previous transactions

· If official documents look suspicious, have them independently verified by the issuing authority

· If a request for change of address is received for the property, send confirmation to old address as well

· If being asked to sell house remotely, ask questions about the property that only the real owner would know

· Consider a 100-point identity verification system which includes passport or driver’s licence with photograph and signature, as well as independent proof of address from employer or local council

In another fraud case originating in Nigeria, a number of Perth businesses have lost thousands of dollars in a ‘Yellow Page’ scam.

Consumer Protection earlier listed an alert on their website warning the public of a scam involving letters sent by a company calling itself “Yellow Page”.

This company advises the recipient of the letter that payment is outstanding for an advertisement for their business and demands payment of AUS $1548.00.

Police are urging business owners to be vigilant when processing invoices.

To date detectives have seized more than 1,500 envelopes destined for potential business victims and intercepted more than $140,000 worth of cheques sent back to the scammers.

Source: www.perthnow.com.au