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Agents are being targeted in email scams

13 March 2017

The number of real estate agents being targeted in email scams is on the rise and agencies are being warned to be vigilant to avoid becoming a victim.

Professional Indemnity insurer Realcover has had three clients recently report falling victim to fake emails which asked them to transfer money.

One agency nearly lost $64,000 after the financial controller received an email from her director asking for money to be transferred. 

However, despite the email mirroring the director’s email, it was actually from scammers.

The individual did not want to be named, but explained: “My boss was actually away in Sydney for two days and I received an email asking me to make a transfer asap and keep it confidential.

“I thought I was speaking to my director as the email address was exactly the same and didn’t question it.

“It was only when they asked for a further $100,000 on the following Monday that I thought something was suspicious.”

Luckily, after realising the scam and reporting it, the intermediary bank in America where the money had been sent advised that they had received the cancellation in time and would return the funds.

“I would warn anyone working in a real estate agency to be on their guard against email scammers, because I have had another one come through since and it does seem to be on the rise.

“We are having to rethink our management risk program to fight against this and I think everyone will have to change their ways to avoid becoming a victim.

“The efficiency of IT systems will also need to be looked at to guard against receiving the emails in the first place.”

Realcover Claims and Compliance Manager, Nancy Rainbird, revealed how she had reports of a number of incidents over the last few weeks from agents who had been the victim of email fraud.

She added: “Unfortunately the risk from cyber-crime is on the increase and in particular real estate agencies are being targeted.

“It appears that the scammers trawl through agencies’ websites to get the directors’ and finance teams’ emails before sending a request for money.

“Agents and agencies need to beware of the risks and start looking at amending their risk strategies to ensure they avoid the trap.”

Some professional indemnity insurance policies offer limited cover against cyber-crime and there are also stand-alone cyber insurance policies available in the market.

The Australian Government has said cyber security is one of its security priorities. It has launched a Cyber Security Strategy, allocating $230 million to spend on a range of counter-measures.