A home that was sold without the owner’s consent, part of a Western Australian real estate scam with roots in Nigeria, has prompted authorities to warn agents of their responsibilities when it comes to identifying home owners.
A joint taskforce comprising investigators from Consumer Protection, WA Police Major Fraud Squad and representatives of Landgate has launched an investigation into the scam, which was prompted by a couple who reported that their property had been sold without their knowledge while they were overseas.
According to a statement by Consumer Protection, the previous owners were living and working overseas at the time and didn’t discover the property had been sold until they recently returned to Perth to inspect the property.
“The real estate agent involved has told investigators that he received a phone call from a man claiming to be the owner in February this year inquiring about the property,” Consumer Protection said. “Shortly after, the agent received an urgent request to sell the property as funds were needed for a business investment, later revealed to be a supposed petro-chemical project.”
“We are in the early stages of a full criminal investigation and examining computer, phone records and bank accounts,” detective senior sergeant Pete Davies of the Major Fraud Squad said. He added that the scam was likely to have originated in Nigeria, and it had some similarities to the fraudulent sale of a Karrinyup property in September last year.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll has urged real estate and settlement agents to apply stringent measures to confirm the identity of absentee owners who wish to sell their properties remotely and ensure the person they are dealing with is the legitimate owner.
“It is essential that agents have rigorous procedures and a clear protocol in place to certify that the appropriate person has been identified as the real owner before providing the service,” Ms Driscoll said.
“It is critical that when an owner changes their contact details that real estate agents send a confirmation to both the owner’s original and new addresses, using all forms of communication. This will confirm that the new details are correct and may alert the owner to any improper activity that is occurring.
“Agents and lenders are reminded they are obliged to provide their services to existing clients with due care and skill under the Australian Consumer Law, for which a range of remedies are available. The Real Estate and Business Agents’ Code of Conduct also makes disciplinary action available to agents who fail to provide services with due care and skill.
“There is no current finding that the agents involved in this latest transaction have failed to act with due care and skill, but it serves as a timely reminder of agents’ obligations.”