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Given a cybercrime is reported every ten minutes in Australia, you can be assured that property deals, with deposits and funds changing hand, has the attention of scammers.
However, the exact level of activity in the property industry is very hard to quantify, says Lee Bailie, head of Securexchange, a secure and collaborative workspace for property deals.
“Rather surprisingly, there is no reporting, so we have nothing firm we can quote. But anecdotally, we hear about it from absolutely everyone in the industry on a daily basis. We’d guess that somewhere between 1 in 20 have had at least an attempt at fraud, usually through email and text phishing. And rather concerningly, the numbers seem to be increasing.”
While Harcourts CEO Victoria and Tasmania Tony Morrison reports that most of the Harcourts agencies, based in Tasmania and Victoria, have been reporting an uptick in fraud attempts from 18 months ago.
“We have really noticed how much more it is happening, and unfortunately, some of the attempts have been successful and we have had several agencies that have found themselves seriously out of pocket.
“There can be big sums involved in transactions, and criminals are aware of that, so that is why we, as an industry, are being targeted. Coupled with this, when it comes to an exchange, there are lots of different parties involved, so the chances of something going wrong increases.
“We strongly encourage our agencies to take out cyber fraud insurance. Yes, it’s yet another insurance for agencies but cyber fraud is not going away, its increasing, so we see this as just part of doing business.
“It’s also great that there’s technology platforms like Securexchange now available. Technology can make it easier and anything that can help us protect the deal is absolutely a good thing.”
The transparent nature of the property industry and documentation and contract requirements makes it more vulnerable, says Bailie.
“Every transaction gets listed on a major listing site, so every property in market and their agent is available for everyone to see, including the scammers.
“There’s also a lot of parties involved meaning more chance for things to go wrong. When I bought a block of land, I worked out that I received about 27 emails and had around 35 documents that I had to review and sign, from the agent, lawyers and the bank.
This equates to a lot of opportunity for fraudulent activity, even with things like two factor authentication.”
Securexchange, which has won multiple business awards since its launch, aims to cyber-proof the process through the use of a collaborative and secure workspace that all the various parties involved in the deal can communicate and share documents including the agent, conveyancer, lawyer, buyer and seller.
It has protected over 5000 parties involved in property deals since March 2018, ensuring property deposit funds and private documents remained 100% safe from hackers, backed by a financial guarantee.
“It’s one central position for all those documents involved. It’s safe and it gets rid of the need for many emails. We have also designed Securexchange so it fits easily with the software and programs that those various parties use.” Bailie explained.
Securexchange invites known parties into a secure workspace to complete the actions needed for a property sale. Multi-factor authentication by SMS confirms everyone accessing the Securexchange workspace is verified, and they only have to go do it once.
Real estate agent Ashley Miles from Red Property in Manly was an early adopter of the Securexchange platform and says he’s loving it.
“We started using Securexchange to share trust account details. Before we would send an email or text and then call up to verify. So, nothing could get done unless we could physically get hold of someone on the phone to confirm.
“We don’t need to do that now. It’s all online and happens automatically and of course is much more secure. As well as transferring money, we can share contracts with the lawyers, so they don’t have to ring up looking for it,” says Mr Miles.
“Everything is going digital and you’ve got up to keep up. When you’re handling large sums of client’s money, you’ve got to make it safe and secure. Securexchange just makes it all so much easier.”
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