Constance Hall: How a blogger fell victim to a real estate email scam

Mummy blogger Constance Hall had her savings ‘wiped out’ when she fell victim to a fancy trick – here’s how it works.

Perth blogger Constance Hall has said her life savings have been ‘wiped out’ after falling victim to a sophisticated property scam – and authorities are warning tenants are a ‘prime target’ in a tight market.

Hall revealed to her 1.3 million followers on Wednesday that she “felt stupid” and was “devastated” after paying money via an email link to what she believed was a real estate agency to secure a rental property for her and her children, only for the recipient to be a fraudster.

Known as a payment redirection scam, it involves hacking or cloning of email accounts, followed by demands for money.

“The scam specifically targets victims who can expect a message like this and are less likely to question it,” says WA ScamNet.

“Payment redirection takes place when scammers switch bank accounts, so money ends up being transferred to the wrong account. Real estate transactions are prime targets for this scam due to the often large sums of money involved .

“At first I felt stupid”

Speaking to Facebook to explain her predicament, Hall said the bank managed to recover just $7.57 of the thousands of dollars she had paid out. “Officially the worst school holidays ever,” she wrote.

“At first I felt stupid, how could I let that happen? But I’m a businesswoman, I often pay large sums internationally, I’m scammed, and I don’t pay anything that doesn’t come from a known contact with a credible email history, so no I am not stupid. It literally could have happened to anyone desperate to secure a rental.

Hall said it was “too much to cash in” and the rental agent said “there was nothing to do” and call his bank.

The bank said it authorized the transaction, the likelihood of recovering the money was “minimal” and contacting the police, who said much the same.

“Today Commonwealth Bank Fraud Department got back to me and said out of the thousands I transferred they were able to recover $7.57 and that was it. All my savings went been wiped out,” she said.

“The kids are devastated, we’ve had a vacation like *** because mom is broke and can’t even ask for more.”

She stressed that it was “by no means a shame party, I am in a better financial position than many, many people and for that I remain grateful and must look back”.

“But saving was never easy for me and I was so proud of that money and felt like I was finally doing something that represented how successful I had been despite all the odds,” he said. she declared.

“Everything getting robbed in an instant… felt incredibly unfair and it made me think of other single moms, moms who don’t have their mom to rely on or the career that this sequel has blessed me with. . »

How does the scam work?

The people behind the scam hack email accounts and get information about ongoing financial transactions between sellers or buyers and real estate or settlement agents.

“Scammers may appear to take over the company’s email address or create a new, nearly identical email address that is difficult to distinguish from the original,” says WA ScamNet.

“Using the new email address, the scammers attempt to trick the parties into disbursing transaction funds to alternate bank accounts under their control.”

In a shocking example, scammers stole an estimated $375,000 last year intended to fund the elderly care costs of a 102-year-old woman.

The woman’s granddaughter, who has an enduring power of attorney, was arranging for the funds from the sale of her grandmother’s house to be transferred to the nursing home through a settlement agent.

The scammers intercepted email communications between the granddaughter and the aged care facility and sent a fake email pretending to be the nursing home informing her of a change in bank details for the transfer.

The granddaughter sent these bank details along with instructions to the settlement agent. When the settlement took place, the proceeds of $374,251 were transferred to the crooks’ bank account in Sydney.

“They said they were hacked”

Hall said she was looking for a rental so she and her children could leave her mother’s house, but it was a struggle with the rental market in Perth being so tight.

Finally, she found the “perfect” house online, with four bedrooms, a swimming pool and a garden.

She contacted the agent, Leasing Elite in Nedlands, and was taken to the house. The next day, she received an email that appeared to be from the agent saying, “Good news! Your application has been approved! Please pay the deposit and four weeks rent first thing today or tomorrow and the paperwork can be sent out and signed.

“It was a lot of money,” she said.

“I was emptying my savings account and part of my salary last week, it’s a big hit for the school holidays, but I thought how excited the kids will be when I tell them that it will be like a holiday in itself.”

So she paid the money, “sent the remittance right away and told them ASAP would be great and announced it to the kids who were so excited.”

“Friday morning rolls around and I got a phone call from Leasing Elite saying they’ve been hacked,” she said.

“The last two emails I had received on the same thread weren’t from them, they were from hackers. The bank details weren’t really theirs and the house was never approved .

Leasing Elite did not respond to requests for comment.

$23,500 lost after hack

On Tuesday, Consumer Protection WA issued a press release that appeared to reference Hall’s case, although the agency said it would not confirm any details about the victims or the agency involved.

Consumer Protection WA said two people looking for rental properties lost a total of $23,500 after scammers appeared to hack into the email account of an estate agency in the western suburbs of Perth.

“Consumer Protection is investigating reports that two potential tenants received a fake email claiming to be from the agency saying they were successful in their rental applications and giving instructions to transfer the deposit and advance payments rent to a bank account controlled by the crooks,” the agency said.

“In one case, an international arrival in Perth, who was staying at a hotel while awaiting confirmation of the rental property, made multiple payments to the scammer in the amount of $13,100 and the fraudulent email responses blamed a Covid-19 outbreak at the office for not being able to hand over the keys to his hotel. Once the initial payment was made, the scammer came back with another request for additional rent in advance. »

In the other case, consumer protection said a “woman moving from a regional area in Perth paid $10,400 following an email exchange with the scammer posing as the Property Manager”.

“She had also sent personal and financial information as well as identification documents,” he added.

The watchdog said these “alarming cases” prompted Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe to issue an urgent warning to potential tenants.

“Scammers always prey on people in vulnerable situations, such as those desperate for rental properties in today’s tight market,” Mr Newcombe said.

“Victims are of course devastated when they find out they don’t have the property and have lost the money they sent. In one case, the victim has to face additional expenses for hotel accommodation until they find another property. In past examples of rental scams, victims sometimes find themselves homeless and unable to pay for another property.

Mr Newcombe advised potential tenants to contact the property manager by telephone to confirm the outcome of their application and to double-check the bank details provided for payment.

“Sending personal and financial information and identification documents to scammers will also increase the risk of identity theft. People should therefore be extra careful and verify that the recipient is genuine before sending any money, information or documents,” he said.

“It should be noted that it is illegal for a landlord or his agent to charge more than four weeks rent for a deposit and more than two weeks rent in advance, plus a maximum of $260 for a pet deposit. company, if any.”

[email protected]

Read related topics:Perth