Buying and selling property is a complex undertaking that is being manipulated by fraudsters more and more these days, with scams becoming rife! Property lawyers and financial institutions urge clients to be vigilant and ensure that they verify all the details relating to the transaction, particularly before making any payments.
Property scams have serious ramifications, for example, if the purchaser pays a deposit, as agreed to in terms of a property sale agreement, into a fraudulent account, then he/she has not complied with his/her obligations in terms of the agreement and will be considered to be in breach. Apart from the damages claim that the seller may then institute, the purchaser is also out of pocket.
Clients and property professionals also need to be on the lookout for phishing emails that intercept email correspondence. The criminals behind these schemes often monitor the progress of a transaction, and then send a mail from a dummy account (which looks very similar to the authentic email address), notifying the purchaser of a change in banking details of the conveyancing attorney or other party involved in the transaction.
We advise you to check and double check banking details and email correspondence, especially where a change in banking details is communicated to you. Make a phone call to the relevant party and verify the change in banking details (go through the switchboard – do not simply use a number that has been sent to you), or better yet, meet with them in person if possible. It is also prudent to adopt a rule never to just click ‘reply’ to an email when you are sending important information. Instead, create a new email and find the person you want to send to in your outlook address book. In this way, you avoid replying to a fake email address that looks similar.
There are also scams where people pose as estate agents, sellers and/or registered attorneys. This is why it is essential to use experienced conveyancing attorneys and registered estate agents. If you have any doubt about an agent or attorney’s legitimacy, contact the Estate Agency Board (EAAB) or the Law Society of the province the attorney is practicing in.