Victorian home buyers and agents warned after reports of possible hacking scam

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A man covers his face at his desk in an undated file photo. Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

Victorian home buyers and real estate agents were warned about a new hacking scam, with reported losses in excess of $200,000. They were advised to take added measures to ensure the security of money transfers after reports of a possible con.

The email accounts of real estate agents appeared to be the target of the said hacking scam. There were fears that fraudsters used these email accounts to send instructions to home buyers to deposit their money into a bank account.

Some people looking to buy a home reported getting an email with the contract of sale and trust account details for payment of their deposit to a selling agent. But shortly afterwards, a second email from the same account advised home buyers of an error in the first email, now asking them to transfer their money to a different account.

It was suspected that the second email was from a hacker syphoning money to an account that was not associated with the selling agent. This was how fraudsters possibly steal money from home buyers.

Simon Cohen, Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, stressed the importance of paying close attention to detail when transferring funds for a home deposit. “If you have purchased a home and receive an email from the estate agent with trust account details to make payment, call the agent or visit them in person to verify that the email is legitimate,” Cohen said in a media release published at Consumer Affairs Victoria’s site.

Cohen said people involved in purchasing a property must be suspicious if they get a second email instructing them to make a payment to another account. Home buyers were advised to be careful even if the second email was from the same account used in the first.

Real estate agents and all businesses, on the other hand, were strongly encouraged to regularly review and secure their online systems to avoid possible scams. The organisation stated that to keep email accounts safe, businesses and agents must consider setting up a two-step verification process with their email accounts.

Changing passwords and other verification details regularly is also advised. Real estate agents must not share their email addresses online unless necessary and delete spam messages without opening them. Individuals and businesses who believe they have been tricked into transferring money into a wrong account are encouraged to contact their bank at the soonest time possible.