A Nigerian man has been arrested over an attempted fraudulent sale of a home in Western Australia.
Ntuen Promise Ekenmini was apprehended by Nigerian authorities last Wednesday when he attended an international courier office and attempted to collect documents with a forged driver’s licence in the name of an Australian homeowner.
The documents related to a supposed settlement of a $780,000 home in Falcon, south of Perth, owned by an Australian living in South Africa.
Ken Murphy, director of Mandurah Estate Agency, which managed the property, told Real Estate Business suspicions were raised after he received an email purporting to be from the owner last December.
“What alerted us to it immediately was that the so-called owner changed an email address, but within a space of three or four days, they also then put their property on sale,” he said.
“Under our new legislation, we requested a 100 point ID cheque, which they produced. However, we identified that as probably false identification, contacted the owners directly and we realised we had a scam within the first day.”
Mr Murphy said he contacted the police immediately but did not alert the scammer that they were onto him.
“We basically played them at their own game and went along with it,” he said.
The agency, in conjunction with the Major Fraud Squad of the Western Australian Police, continued communicating with the alleged offender for eight months.
The international investigation, which involved the Australia Federal Police and authorities in South Africa and Nigeria, eventually led to Mr Eknmini’s arrest. The alleged fraudster is expected to be charged with forgery and identity theft and will face court later this month.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll welcomed the arrest in Nigeria but reminded real estate and settlement agents to remain vigilant.
“Agents are reminded that they must strictly comply with the strengthened Codes of Conduct and accompanying guidelines which require them to carry out rigorous identity checks on clients, particularly if the owners are from overseas and want to sell the property urgently,” she said.
“This includes confirming changes to contact details with original addresses on property management files before documents are sent.
Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw of the Major Fraud Squad told Real Estate Business the fraud was able to be detected because Mr Murphy had done his due diligence in picking up suspicious activity.
“When you’re getting a contact from someone that’s overseas who has a home here and they want to change their contact details or provide different contact details from what you have on record, that’s the first thing you need to be suspicious about," he said.
“If you have a contact from someone purporting to be the owner, go back to your previous records you have on file and use those to contact the person whether it be telephone or email, and confirm that yes it is them that now want to engage in this home sale.”
If agents received emails from a false email address, they should not send anything to them.
“We’ve got lease agreements being sent to people overseas because the agent obviously wants to please their client but we are just playing into their hands. We are giving them a portfolio of documents that they can then use to create false identities.”
Mr Blackshaw added that agents should not take things on face value and put independent thought into documents or emailed communication.
“Once a person’s place is lost, it’s lost forever.”