An 83-year-old Perth woman has lost $557,000 in life savings after hackers intercepted emails about a property purchase settlement.
It is one of three recent property-related frauds believed to have been perpetrated by overseas criminals, but it is not known if they are linked, Consumer Protection says.
The scammers intercepted emails between the woman’s son, who was acting on her behalf, and her settlement agent earlier this month.
When the fraud was discovered, he contacted the bank but only $1000 was left in the account.
The elderly woman might face another financial hit because the settlement could not go through as planned.
In the second case, two people lost $25,658 after a settlement agency’s email was hacked last month and three payments for property purchases were directed to a different bank account created by scammers.
In the third case, three prospective renters were duped earlier this month into transferring $7300 in bond money to the bank account of a scammer pretending to be a property manager.
That scam was detected early because the property manager’s father was one of the tenants who received the email and he became suspicious.
Consumer Protection Commissioner David Hillyard urged buyers, sellers and tenants to double check emails purporting to be from their real estate or settlement agent requesting funds be sent to a bank account.
“As the scammers could have hacked into the client’s or the agency’s email server, it may appear genuine, so we recommend that the change is confirmed with a phone call to the agency’s previously known number to verify if the request is authentic,” he said.
“Don’t reply to the email or use any numbers provided in the email as you could be communicating with the scammers.”
Mr Hillyard said it was important for real estate and settlement agencies to use the high security software to protect the integrity of their computer systems and email servers.
“It’s believed the hacking may have occurred as a result of accessing email accounts via public wifi, and consumers and industry professionals are cautioned about the dangers of using your email on open networks,” he said.