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Security Australia Crime News

Criminals Steal House Thanks To Hacked Email 227

Posted by Soulskill
from the that's-not-a-scam,-THIS-is-a-scam dept.
mask.of.sanity writes with this quote from ZDNet: "An international cybercrime investigation is underway into a sophisticated scam network that used email and fax to sell an Australian man's AU$500,000 property without his knowledge. The man was overseas when the Nigerian-based scammers stole his credentials and amazingly sold two houses through his real estate agent. He rushed home and prevented the sale of his second home from being finalized. Australian Federal Police and overseas law enforcement agencies will investigate the complex scam, which is considered the first of its kind in Australia. It is alleged scammers had stolen the man's email account and personal property documents to sell the houses and funnel cash into Chinese bank accounts. Investigating agencies admit the scammers hoodwinked both the selling agents and the government, and said they had enough information to satisfy regulatory requirements. The police did not rule out if the scammers had links to the man."
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Criminals Steal House Thanks To Hacked Email

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  • this is ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fadethepolice (689344) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:29AM (#33570166) Journal
    The fact that property of this value can be transferred without the owner's knowledge and he has to go to the australian government in the hopes of recovering full value for the home is shameful. You would think that a court of law would need to be consulted and signatures would have to be issued and compared, at least through the mail.
    • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:32AM (#33570188) Homepage Journal

      >>You would think that a court of law would need to be consulted and signatures would have to be issued and compared, at least through the mail.

      Theoretically that is what notaries and escrow is all about. Whatever notary signed off on this should lose their license. If it wasn't notarized, then the escrow company for approving a sale without notarized documents. I'm also kind of surprised the real estate agent never tried to call the guy, even if he was overseas.

      • by rtb61 (674572) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:55AM (#33570318) Homepage

        There is far more to it than email, "It is alleged scammers had stolen Mildenhall's email account and personal and property documents". There had to direct proximate contact, they obtained personal and property documents. The email angle seems to be more of a beat up by ZDnet rather than being of any real significance.

        Investor generally keep property titles in a private safe or a bank safety deposit box but, he didn't notice them gone.

        Hmm, strange had investments house and his agent was not renting them and the owner didn't notice the missing rent income if the agent was renting them. The whole thing stinks, from the owner, to the agent and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the case pans out over the next few months.

        • by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @03:27AM (#33570472)
          Do you own land? I do. I have multiple pieces of land in three states. I have no title to anything. I have document showing the sale from the previous owner to me and a document from a title insurance company. That should be sufficient. There isn't a paper title like a car. It's not like the land moves. The titles are kept by the state. The papers indicating my ownership are kept in my home and not in a safe of any kind. If someone wished, they could get them. But, under US law, this type of fraud would leave the buyers with nothing and I'd still be the undisputed owner. If I wasn't the one to sign that I sold it, it wasn't sold. Period. The rules are evidently different in Australia, though.
          • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @05:38AM (#33571050) Homepage Journal

            Do you own land? I do. I have multiple pieces of land in three states. I have no title to anything. I have document showing the sale from the previous owner to me and a document from a title insurance company. That should be sufficient. There isn't a paper title like a car. It's not like the land moves. The titles are kept by the state. The papers indicating my ownership are kept in my home and not in a safe of any kind. If someone wished, they could get them. But, under US law, this type of fraud would leave the buyers with nothing and I'd still be the undisputed owner. If I wasn't the one to sign that I sold it, it wasn't sold. Period. The rules are evidently different in Australia, though.

            I have a copy of the title that the state keeps on file for my house. That's not my point. There's (supposed to be) layers of security in place to prevent exactly this kind of stuff from happening. In particular, if you're selling a property and you can't come in person to sign for it, you need to visit a notary near you who is supposed to verify your identify and notarize the documents. An escrow company is only supposed to close after all forms have been signed and notarized.

            That's why I said that some notary and/or the escrow company ought to get into trouble for this. That's the only value they really provide for the rather exorbitant amounts of money they charge.

          • But, under US law, this type of fraud would leave the buyers with nothing and I'd still be the undisputed owner.

            The buyers would have been covered by their title insurance.

        • As a guy who just bought a house, someone shows up on the seller's side at the closing. Find that person, and throw them in jail - lawyer, shill, guy with power of attorney, whatever. When they tell you who sent them to the closing, find that person and throw them in jail. Wash, rinse, repeat, until you come up to a blind drop or a disconnected phone number.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wvmarle (1070040)

        Scammers had victim's e-mail address and the trust of agent that they were the person they pretended to be; it's easy enough to send an address/telephone change notice by e-mail that the agent then will consider the current valid details. And when called the scammer answers. Not likely agent will be able to recognise the voice being wrong, especially when the person answering the phone has the correct Australian accent.

        • Not likely agent will be able to recognise the voice being wrong

          That really depends. If the agent has few contacts, and talks to this landowner infrequently, then it's possible; but, if they're busy enough to talk to many people (but not so busy that they have to delegate), his/her ear will key in on a certain tonality and cadence with a familiar contact. To wit, if you have a set of family members that you talk to with some regularity, and one calls you with a stuffy nose, you would notice it fairly quickly, no?

        • by leuk_he (194174)

          "answering the phone has the correct Australian accent."

          Really? Don't there live home-owner over there with an other accent?

    • by Dogers (446369)

      That was probably where the fax came in - a system I wish would die..

      I'm curious to know how they got into his email though. Was it a weak password or was he scammed by them and they guessed it/were given it?

    • You would think that a court of law would need to be consulted and signatures would have to be issued and compared, at least through the mail.

      Yeah, that sounds completely foolproof!

    • Governments log all your data... but when data is lost, you're on your own?
      If all this happened through the internet, then surely those massive anti-terrorist / anti-cybercrime servers that log everything can be of some assistance here?

      (Especially if the data was stolen from a government server where all our personal information is stored... not that it happened this time, but in the future that is certainly a possibility too).

  • by AbRASiON (589899) * on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:29AM (#33570168) Journal

    Does the man lose his home? He never sold the property and I don't see why he should be giving it up.
    These kind of articles never include a followup on what hapenned.

    • by dark grep (766587) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:47AM (#33570278)
      AFAIK under Australian Law, the people who bought the first house get to keep it. Assuming they are just innocent and genuine buyers. There is a government fund that is used to compensate the victim of the theft in these sort of cases, though the value will be independently assessed and the owner paid on the basis of that assessment, not what the current owners paid the scammers.
      • by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @03:12AM (#33570382)
        That's good to know because US law is clear in that the first owner would regain (because he never lost) ownership and the people who paid for it would have lost all their money and their recourse would be to find and sue the scammers. At least in Australia it sounds like there's a chance of recovering something in international fraud cases. The FBI won't even investigate international fraud if they can get out of it and will lie to you to prevent you pushing hard enough to make it an official case. And there's not much you can do to recover the money, even if you identify the person in question, if they live abroad.
        • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @07:53AM (#33571870)

          Actually, in the US the unknowing buyers would be compensated by their title insurance company and the seller would get his house back. This is exactly why we have title insurance on real estate transactions.

      • by houghi (78078)

        So I buy the house far below market value from a conman. The seller gets the real value from governement. We split the profits.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by daithesong (1124065)
        surely the fair return to the 'status quo ante' is for the government to restore the money to the *buyers* and the property to the *rightful owner*. The buyers can they buy another property, if they wish; they are back where they started.
      • .. in Australia? That is essentially what happened. They stole his house and sold it. What if it were a car or a computer? If thieves can steal things and "sell" them to someone else who gets to keep it, something is very seriously wrong with the legal system, there.

        • by Dunbal (464142) *

          If thieves can steal things and "sell" them to someone else who gets to keep it, something is very seriously wrong with the legal system, there.

                Yes, the US system is much better, where the government ends up seizing the property and NO ONE gets to keep it.

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        "independently assessed ". That is true, but the figure won't be much different and it will be correlated with the market value.

  • Commission (Score:2, Funny)

    by initials (1418121)
    I doubt the real estate agent will be refunding their commission.
    • by Demena (966987)
      Correct. If they are found not to have acted in full accord with their responsibilities they will have to fork out the full value of the property. But the sale will not be cancelled. A civil suit would follow to cover pin and anguish.
  • Oh. XKCD! (Score:3, Funny)

    by thatkid_2002 (1529917) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:54AM (#33570310)
    http://xkcd.com/792/ [xkcd.com]
    You can add house to that list.
  • That's nothing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:59AM (#33570340)

    Here in the US criminals stole not the House, but the whole Executive Branch thanks to hacked voting machines! (allegedly)

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      ...which should not be modded as funny.
      • ...which should not be modded as funny.

        This would not have happened if the new Slashdot Law on Correct Smiley Placement was already in effect :( <- correct

  • This does, although I am still not sure how the scammers got hold of the original certificate of title. Here in WA this is still a piece of paper and the settlement agent must have it to complete the transaction.

    It can be replaced although it is extremely difficult to do so (trust me, I lost one).

    • by mjwx (966435)

      This does, although I am still not sure how the scammers got hold of the original certificate of title. Here in WA this is still a piece of paper and the settlement agent must have it to complete the transaction.

      But there in lies the problem. The settlement agents (realtors) which had the power to sell the house (possibly also the title papers) were duped by the scammer, it's quite easy to see how this happened, scammer breaks into email account, scammer initiates contact with realtors, scammer instructs

  • First time? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Demena (966987) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @03:20AM (#33570432)
    Horsehockey, This sort of thing has happened many times before in this country. The problem happens because once it hits the registry the registry cannot legally be altered. So if the buyer acted in good faith it is up to the (accidental) seller to recover the funds from the crook. It doesn't happen often because most people are aware of it.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Horsehockey, This sort of thing has happened many times before in this country. The problem happens because once it hits the registry the registry cannot legally be altered. So if the buyer acted in good faith it is up to the (accidental) seller to recover the funds from the crook. It doesn't happen often because most people are aware of it.

      So the "seller"/victim has to constantly monitor the registry or hire someone to do so? I like the "buyer beware" system much better. At least they know they're buying.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @03:32AM (#33570492) Homepage Journal
    I mean Carmen Sandiego and her gang have been known to steal whole monuments, I'm sure a house is a pretty easy job for them.
  • and have issued email warnings to all licensees in the state...

    Didn't they learn anything? So they still fell back to e-mail as the official line of communication? With people like that running regulatory agencies, it's no wonder our world is so screwed up.

  • forged signature (Score:2, Informative)

    by cchheezzaall (707708)
    The guy was on TV here in Australia. He claimed the authorization signature looked nothing like his , and he said it looked like a 5 year old child wrote it ....
  • by dgun (1056422) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @05:07AM (#33570906) Homepage
    Australia doesn't require someone to show up and sign a bunch of crap, I guess. It seems I signed about 5,000 documents both times I purchased a house.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @06:14AM (#33571242)

    Some insight from a UK perspective anyway. I work for a fairly large firm of solicitors in the UK who specialize in property/real estate. Here's a few worrying bits of information:

    We are required to have ID on the file by law, we are not required to check it in any way whatsoever.

    If the vendor/purchaser is long distance from our offices we will accept emailed/faxed copies of all paperwork (INCLUDING ID) within certain easily restrictions such as certified copies, see next point.

    We will create a certified copy of ID from anyone that walks in from the street which is basically a legal way of saying we've had sight of the original. If someone was worried about sending their passport to us by post they could get a copy and take it to a local firm of solicitors/lawyers/attorneys and have them stamp it, we would then accept that by fax or email as if it were the original document. This process is usually done by whoever the office assistant/intern happens to be and they will certainly not know how to check the document to make sure it is an original. In my experience they tend to be more worried about whether or not they will be able to make the photocopier work.

    We are never required to speak to our client by phone or in person, some simply prefer to do business by email for whatever reason. (sometimes language/accent barriers - communicating via google translate is an experience for sure)

    We are not required to check signatures beyond a casual glance to make sure they look similar to the one shown on the ID and this is usually not done. If the document is signed that's good enough for most of the solicitors I've worked for.

    Posting ac for obvious reasons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BobTheLawyer (692026)

      Your firm needs to tighten up its money laundering procedures - that is an insufficient level of client due diligence. If you are not confident your client is who he says he is then you should not act. If something were to go wrong, your firm would face civil proceedings and it (and potentially you personally) could face an LCS investigation or even prosecution.

  • Title insurance (Score:3, Informative)

    by Skapare (16644) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @07:16AM (#33571590) Homepage

    I don't know about Australia, but in the USA, there is this concept of title insurance. A "sale" like that in the story is invalid because the title was stolen by fraudulent means. So the title is effectively no good. The title insurance (which is there to protecy the buyer with respect to defects in title) needs to pay out to the buyer for their loss and the owner keeps his home. There are already existing cases in the USA where home sales were voided due to improper or fraudulent title. In one of them, the "sale" was reversed 8 years after it was finalized, all because the seller's title was fraudulently obtained. And this was 30+ years ago, before email. The fact that email was involved should make it easier to void the sale.

  • by ozzee (612196) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @07:56AM (#33571898)
    The laws in Australia are ridiculously thin when it comes to dealing with this kind of theft. I dare say that the agent is a tad bit liable for selling the mans house and may want to invoke their liability insurance.

    Real estate agents in Australia are a cowboys compared to the agents I dealt with in the US and yes, I have experience with both.

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