Cyber fraud hits WA estate agent

A Broome real estate agency is believed to have been the target of cyber-fraud with criminals reaping $50,000 after accessing the agency’s online banking system. It’s understood the fraudsters may have gained access to the agency’s computer system after a compromised email apparently allowed malicious software (or malware) to be installed.

The bank account details of one of the agency’s clients were changed on a ‘pre-entered list’ of recipients who receive regular payments. Three payments from the agency’s trust account totalling $50,000 were re-directed away from the intended bank account. It appears the account details were later changed back to the original, in the hope that the fraud would not be detected. The agency has since been reimbursed by their bank.

This recent cyber-theft which occurred in February followed a similar case in March last year when a Perth settlement agency had $50,000 in two BPay transactions taken from their trust account. In that case the suspicious transactions were detected early by the bank and the money was recovered.

Commissioner for consumer protection Anne Driscoll warned real estate and settlement agents to be alert to this type of fraud and to have strict security protocols in place to avoid falling victim.

“While the property industry has been targeted in these cases, fraud of this kind can affect any business so it’s essential that businesses have procedures and protocols in place to prevent unauthorised access to their computer system and systems to detect malware,” Ms Driscoll said.

“Staff should be trained to ensure that suspicious emails are deleted immediately, attachments are never opened and links never activated. Having up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software is essential for any business. In light of these attempted frauds, it is our advice that real estate and settlement agents manually input bank account details of clients when making electronic bank payments, rather than relying on the accuracy of details in pre-entered lists.”

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