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Identity theft


Farelf
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Although not mentioned in this local report - Fraud squad probes Perth housing scam - the word is the scam was operated through Nigeria with a Chinese bank in the mix and represents an extraordinary depth of identity theft, all done through the internet and by telephone. Much of the crucial detail is absent but evidently the streamlined, user friendly world of electronic transaction has managed to bypass hundreds of years' worth of checks and balances that should make such things impossible - including the final bulwark against real property fraud, the Torrens Land Title Registry and associated (physical) title deeds and certifications.

The sale proceeds are probably gone forever but I guess a certain real estate agency (realtor) and a settlement agency will be having a nervous year or two. Nothing like that the unfortunate owner, Roger Mildenhall is presently having. At least he managed to stop a second property going the same way (though he is temporarily locked out, tenants sent on their way and cleaners contracted to prepare the property for the new owners!!).

Preaching to the choir here of course but computer security including the practice of 'safe hex', keeping up to date with those pesky 'critical updates', secure web connection protocols and changing default passwords and all the rest of the rigmarole - and avoidance of broadcasting personal details through 'social' websites and the like - are all necessary survival skills in today's brave new world. It only takes a single 'chink in the armour' and they're in - and it is remarkable how little information is needed to start the ball rolling.

There's more in the armoury of these scam artists than simple advance-fee fraud. The remarkable thing is probably that there's not more of it - probably simply down to the 'protection of the herd' aka the 'predator-prey ratio' more than any developing awareness of the general population. Reminder - it's not paranoia if they really are 'out to get you' and do, please, keep those reports coming, remembering http://www.antiphishing.org/ and similar for additional reports if you have time (and feel free to suggest other links - leading off, SCAMwatch - Report a scam for Australia).

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Although not mentioned in this local report - Fraud squad probes Perth housing scam - .

Suspect This is already happening in Sydney? Some homes have been sold while owners on holiday (can't find link) Seems scam gangs in this case are checking mail boxes for bank papers and so on (posing as junk mailers). There have been warnings though for "Phishing scams" for some time

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Suspect This is already happening in Sydney? Some homes have been sold while owners on holiday (can't find link) Seems scam gangs in this case are checking mail boxes for bank papers and so on (posing as junk mailers). ...
Could be, but this case was a little different. Guy was living overseas, guess he had tenants in, unlikely he had mail going to the address and (the really staggering part) no suggestion the sale was invalid. Fraudulent yes but still binding. Incomprehensible to us laymen. If you buy moody goods in the pub and they are traced they get ripped back, returned (eventually) to the legitimate owner, if known, no question. But in this instance there was a 'legal' title transfer, the very strength of the title process was exploited. Points up a fundamental flaw in the titling system which should be (and surely used to be) inviolate.

Western Australia is one (perhaps the only) Oz state using settlement agencies instead of legal firms for monetary settlement. I doubt that would have made a difference (apart from cost - but it's the same clerks who do the work) but who knows? Perhaps that extra layer of accountability might make a difference. One of the questions that will be examined no doubt. But really, it seems to be something more fundamental. The practice of the principal mortgage-holder retaining the title deeds (no matter how small their equity) is an obvious weakness but even there, it seems it was a copy document that was used in this case to execute the deal. How come/since when has that been legal? In how many other jurisdictions? I don't know but it is unlikely WA is alone in the several flaws this case has revealed (States' laws and regulations are depressingly similar, that's the way they like it).

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Sure enough, the spotlight is squarely on Landgate (what an unfortunate name, it is the State agency responsible for land titles and suchlike). But they are the back-stop, lots went wrong before that point. Including with the police. There was a similar but failed attempt in 2008 (aborted when the owner more or less accidentally stumbled over the attempted scam) but the police never told anyone, the case remains open. They didn't even tell Consumer Protection who have a lead role in alerting the public to scams. Oh well, "operational secrecy" and all that (which co-incidentally gives them almost iron-clad low-level control over their own workload no matter what developments take place in the real world).

The superficial similarities are that the owners (two of them) were living in South Africa, the (three) scams were aimed at Perth properties and the e-mails used to run the process originated from Nigeria. Only one of them got as far as Landgate and, almost unaccountably, succeeded. I'm sure Landgate's "Title watch" service is going to be more heavily utilised in future. The mere fact it exists is a bit of a worry. There's a deeper malaise there, methinks. Maybe too many people/agencies can access the title and amend it without assurance of the owner's knowledge and expressed acceptance/approval. The very circumstance the Torrens system was meant to prevent.

And be careful connecting to the internet in South Africa. Or anywhere else. {sigh} it used to so darned convenient, using your computer and a public connection or the hotel's business centre or an internet cafe to send and receive all your e-mails while you were away from home-base.

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