New fraud prevention guidelines have been introduced for the NSW real estate industry after a spate of scams perpetrated in Western Australia recently.
NSW minister for fair trading, Anthony Roberts, said the new real estate fraud prevention guidelines were designed to combat an increase in identity fraud and scams.
The launch of the guidelines come after two, highly publicised incidents in 2010 and 2011 that resulted in properties being sold in Western Australia without the knowledge and consent of the lawful property owners.
“These sales were undertaken by real estate agents who were contacted by criminals masquerading as the true owners,” Mr Roberts said.
“Financial institutions have stringent security measures in place to combat identity fraud and property agents need to be on high alert for potential fraudulent real estate transactions, particularly where there is no mortgagee and the property is wholly owned.”
“Property owners who reside overseas can be particularly vulnerable to identity scams.”
The WA state government recently strengthened the industry’s Codes of Conduct after homes in Ballajura and Karrinyup were sold fraudulently while their owners were overseas. The new codes require agents to exercise greater care, skill and diligence when conducting identity checks on clients.
WA’s Consumer Protection department has also made identity verification training mandatory for all agents and WA Police conducts education seminars for the industry on this issue.
Additionally, early last month, WA commerce minister Simon O’Brien said real estate agents had stopped attempts by overseas scammers to defraud the owners of properties in the Perth suburbs of Belmont, Subiaco and Applecross.
Mr Roberts said the NSW guidelines provide “a set of commonsense practices and procedures for agents to confirm the identity of vendors or their representatives, as well as a list of possible fraud warning signs and what agents must do if fraudulent activity is suspected”.
A ‘Proof of Identity Checklist’ has also been included in the guidelines, Fair Trading NSW said.
“It is important that licensees in charge maintain documented sales processes and procedures and all records are retained securely,” Mr Roberts continued.
“If agents or consumers suspected identity fraud in a real estate transaction, they should immediately contact the NSW Police or NSW Fair Trading and not act on the sale of the property.”
Real Estate Institute of NSW CEO Tim McKibbin welcomed the announcement and said, “The Institute is supportive of any measures to protect consumers from unauthorised dealings and is mindful of the need to raise awareness of these practices and adopt a sensible cost effective approach to deter their occurrence.”