The news comes hot on the heels of two WA agents who had their licences revoked after the misuse of trust accounts in the state.
According to a joint statement between the Department of Commerce in WA and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), two Nigerian men and a South African woman were arrested in Johannesburg on July 2 in relation to the fraud.
The arrests follow a five-month investigation by the major fraud squad of the WA police, with the assistance of the AFP, who worked closely with the South African authorities.
All suspects are charged with fraud, forgery and uttering, and they'll appear in court on the charges later this month.
It’s alleged that Raine & Horne Mandurah, which was managing the Greenfields property on behalf of its South African owner, received an email from the offenders in February pretending to be the real owner, and successfully changed the contact email address the agency had on file.
The investigation revealed that two weeks later, a request to sell the property was received; agreements were signed with forged signatures and exchanged electronically. It added that the property was then put on the market.
It has been further alleged that in March an offer was made on the property and accepted by the pretend owner.
The Department of Commerce said as a result of the offer, documents were sent by the agency to the real owner’s address in South Africa by post, while the email address had been changed, the physical address on file had not.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said real estate agents cannot afford to let their guard down when it comes to these fraud attempts.
"Unfortunately these fraud attempts will undoubtedly continue, so all agents need to be vigilant at all times and have the processes in place to detect these fraud attempts at an early stage,” said Ms Driscoll.
“It is an essential part of the identity verification procedures for any change of contact details by an owner to be confirmed by the real estate agency by sending a notification to the original addresses, both physical and electronic, that are on file. This will alert the real owners at an early stage if their details are being changed fraudulently,” she added.
Real Estate Institute of Western Australia president David Airey confirmed to Real Estate Business that it provides its members and their staff with training to identify scams and ID fraud.
“It's a big issue for agencies,” he said, adding that staff at agencies need to stay vigilant and keep alert for changes of email addresses and bank accounts.
He warned that WA has been targeted more than other states for some reason, and as result, "we require property owners to undergo a rigorous 100 point ID check when listing their property”.