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ID fraudsters sell stolen Aus house

There goes the neighbourhood

By John Leyden

Australian authorities have launched an investigation after Nigerian fraudsters sold a house using email and fax, leaving the legitimate property owner A$500,000 out of pocket in the process.

Roger Mildenhall, a resident in South Africa who owned a set of investment properties in Western Australia as an absentee landlord, only narrowly averted the sale of a second property after he flew thousands of miles to block the fraudulent transaction.

Fraudsters swiped Mildenhall’s email login credentials and obtained personal property documents before selling a house and sending funds to Chinese bank accounts. The scammers hoodwinked real estate agents, banks and local land registrars.

Real Estate Institute of Western Australia (REIWA) spokesman Brian Greig said the transactions were initiated by a mixture of email, telephone and fax without the physical presence of the owner.

“Agents report an increasing trend that more and more transactions are done without face-to-face interaction, particularly with overseas and interstate buyers,” Greig told, adding that the estate agents involved in the sale had followed the correct process.

He suggested that the techniques involved in the case were so sophisticated that simply applying improved identity checks would not be enough to prevent the possibility of similar frauds in future.

“They had a comprehensive understanding of how transactions take place and of the legal processes. If they are sophisticated as they seem to be, identity checks will not be enough — they can forge them.”

Mildenhall only learned of the scam, seemingly by chance, after he contacted by a former neighbour last week, just in time to stop the finalisation of the sale of a house. Another house owned by Mildenhall was sold in June.

Australian police have launched an investigation into the scam, unsurprisingly reckoned to be the first of its type in Australia. No possibilities have been ruled out at this early stage of the investigation.

Meanwhile the Western Australia’s Real Estate and Business Agents Supervisory Board (REBA) and Settlement Agents Supervisory Board published an advisory on Monday warning about the apparent scam. It’s unclear if the incident will prompt a rethink of the identity verification process used by real estate agents in Western Australia, but Consumer Protection Commissioner Anne Driscoll called for a review of every stage of the sale and transfer of title process. ®

The woman said she had already sent about $1 million in checks to several people and was expecting a shipment of 274 money orders for $250,715. That was the shipment that was stopped by U.S. Immigration and Customs. Those money orders will now be used to educate the public about such scams.

The woman was never compensated for her work, and she never lost any money in the scam. Because it appears she was a victim of the scam, no charges are expected.

“I feel like she honestly had no idea what she was doing,” Eslinger said.

Immigration and Customs is in charge of the rest of the investigation involving the scammers.

Eslinger said he is sharing the woman’s story to warn others of potential scams.

“The sole reason for this information being released to the public is to educate people who are considering becoming involved in what they believe is legitimate but in fact is nothing more than another ‘Nigerian cash advance scam,’” he said. “If you are involved in any of the above situations, I urge you to cease sending out any checks or participating in these scams.”

Becoming a middle mailer as the woman was isn’t the only way people can get involved in scams. Many are also asked to deposit checks or money orders and send out a certain amount of money. However, those checks and money orders are fake, and the person who does deposits them is responsible for the money, which has to be repaid to the bank.

“When you see e-mails pop up in your inbox stating that you’ve won the Irish lottery, or you were named in a will and someone wants to wire money into your account, these are examples of Internet scams,” Eslinger said.

He suggests if there is suspicion these e-mails might be legitimate, the recipient should contact the Better Business Bureau. Any people who believe they have already been caught in one of these scams should contact their local law enforcement agency.


September 14, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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