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How to avoid real estate scams in 2022

By Mo Zeitouneh

While there are many fantastic things about living in the era of digital transactions, there are definitely reasons to be wary.

The incidence of cyber scams, phishing, hacking, data breaches and online fraud seems to be rising all the time.

In fact, according to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, Australians are collectively losing tens of millions of dollars each year to scams relating to hacking, phishing, identity theft and remote access.

Avoid falling victim to real estate scams by being extra careful online. Picture: Getty

But 2022 is proving to be even more lucrative for scammers. Scamwatch claimed that between January 1 and August 31 this year Australians had lost even more with reported losses of over $37.8 million.

By comparison, during all of 2021 Australians lost a collective $33.9 million.

Types of real estate scams

Real estate fraud and property scams have been around for a long time.

However, it seems digital scammers have never been so brazen in their attempts to cash in on the large amounts of money being transferred online.

Here are some of the scams to watch out for:

Rental property scams

Unfortunately, the rental market is a popular target for scammers. Prospective tenants are used to having personal details ready for applications, expect to be asked some questions, and ultimately, expect to hand over some money.

How to protect yourself from rental scams

The good news is that rental scams are relatively easy to avoid.

  • Ensure sensitive information is only uploaded using official channels such as the realestate.com.au Renter Profile platform.
  • Try to have as many dealings face-to-face as possible.
  • Never hand over money without first inspecting the property.

Scammers trying to cash in on people’s savings often look towards the property industry. Picture: Getty

Fraudulent property listing scams

While no one can blame those looking for a bargain, sadly, if something sounds too good to be true – it usually is.

Scammers are constantly finding new ways to deceive users by replicating websites and using company logos to appear genuine.

How to protect yourself from listing scams

  • Use official and verified platforms, such as realestate.com.au, which has a data security team that seeks out and deletes fake accounts.
  • When dealing with an agent try to deal with them in person or over the phone as much as possible, limiting the need for the uploading of sensitive information online.
  • Cross-check the agent by looking up their website or profile page. If you receive correspondence from a strange number or email account, look up the official one online before returning the call.
  • Never pay money before inspecting a property.

Phishing scams

The Australian Cyber Security Centre defines phishing as the way that cybercriminals steal confidential information, such as online banking logins, credit card details, business login credentials or passwords/passphrases, by sending fraudulent messages (sometimes called ‘lures’).

The way these generally work with property is a genuine person, such as a real estate agent, has their email hacked and the scammer then impersonates them to steal sensitive information from their clients.

How to protect yourself from phishing scams

  • Before transferring any money, always call the agency and confirm the bank details to ensure they are current and correct.
  • Never use the same password/email combinations across multiple sites, especially for banking or email logins.
  • Never click a link on an email or text message that looks slightly odd, even if it claims to be from someone you’ve dealt with previously. If you’re unsure it’s best to call to confirm the message came from them.

Payment redirect and Business Email Compromise (BEC) Scams

Sadly, Business Email Compromise scams are becoming more common as businesses are increasingly moving their operations online.

How does a payment redirection scam work

  1. Scammers gain access to the official email database of a business and then use it to target their clients. This can be done directly through email, or from a similar-looking email.

    For example, if the website ends in .com, they might use .com.au – or have characters that look similar e.g. replace an m with rn.
    Another variation is when the client’s own email account is compromised, hackers can see what emails you’re getting, block the original sender and take over responses.

2. Clients are then sent emails with incorrect bank details for the agency’s official trust account, which can lead to victims losing their whole deposit amount.

These operations can be very targeted and go after large amounts of money, like deposits.

Sadly, these are also harder to identify immediately because these kinds of deposits can take days to appear.

How to protect yourself from payment redirection scams

  • Before transferring any money, always call the agency and carefully confirm the bank details to ensure they are current and correct.
  • Never use the same password/email combinations across multiple sites, especially for banking or email logins.
  • Double-check email addresses each time you receive correspondence online.
  • Never click a link on an email or text message that looks odd, even if it claims to be from someone you’ve dealt with previously. If you’re unsure it’s best to call to confirm the message came from them.

Don’t be scammed into handing over your hard-earned money to a hacker. Picture: Getty

How to avoid real estate scams and red flags to avoid

The property industry lures would-be scammers due to the large amounts of money being transferred regularly between parties so, sadly, it’s almost impossible to prevent entirely.

However, it’s important to remember that professional real estate agents won’t question the need for enhanced security and would hate to see a client fall victim to a scam on their watch, so never feel bad for asking them to double-check details again.

While there are many tried and true methods of avoiding being scammed, sometimes the best weapon is trusting your gut if something feels off.

Here are our top tips for avoiding a real estate scam:

  • Avoid clicking on links in emails
  • Always double-check details via phone before transferring large amounts of money
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Be suspicious if real estate agents can’t meet you in person at the property

source: rea.com.au

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