Homebuyers lose $60k deposit to scammers

A young couple has lost more than $60,000 in home deposit savings, after falling victim to a business email compromise scam.

This type of scam – which commonly targets homebuyers – has seen a rapid rise in recent years, with the number of cases jumping from 900 in 2019, to 1300 last year, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Luke and Tiffany Hale, both 27, reportedly spent five years saving up their deposit, but when they transferred the money, it promptly disappeared.

The pair are now fighting to get their money back.

“My stomach instantly dropped when we realised and we didn’t sleep for a few nights after that,” Mr Hale told The Daily Telegraph.

“There were probably two days of being inconsolable while coming up with an action plan of what to do next.”

The scam works by criminals hacking businesses’ email accounts, and replacing legitimate payment details with their own.

When the money is transferred into the scammer’s account, it’s quickly emptied, often before anyone notices.

“The real estate agent forwarded our broker an email and copied us into it, and that’s when we realised he had been speaking to a spoof email impersonating us,” Mr Hale told the newspaper.

“He had received confirmation of the payment from us but it was really from this fake account and the receipt was an edited version of what we sent, with the bank details changed.

“As first homebuyers the whole process was new and unfamiliar to us so we didn’t see the red flags.”

While not a new concept, business email compromise scams, are becoming increasingly common.

Last year victims reportedly suffered a combined loss of $128 million.

According to cyber security expert Nigel Phair it’s important for victims to report scams to police.

“The thing about cyber criminals is they’re amazingly rational people and when they’re onto a winner, they stick with it,” Mr Phair told the newspaper.

“In this day and age, a home deposit is a large chunk of money, so homebuyers are a great target for them.”

Mr Phair said vigilance was the key to avoiding financial loss.

“For consumers, get confirmation in person or by phone of everything including the payment details,” he said.

“Businesses need to use two-factor authentication and maintain good cyber security.”

To avoid falling victim to a business email compromise scam, Mr Phair recommends always checking email addresses, URLs and spelling used in all correspondence – and be particularly cautious when transferring funds.

The Hales have had to take out a second loan to cover the missing deposit, while they attempt to recoup their funds through their real estate agent’s insurance.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a freelance journalist for Elite Agent.