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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Ombudsman warns all agents over fraudulent computer virus scam

The Property Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of warning all estate and letting agents to act with caution over fraudulent ‘buyers’ who are trying to spread computer virus scams.

A statement issued yesterday evening said: “TPO has been alerted to a case by a member agent who received emails from a potential buyer in China. The individual emailed the branch several times expressing a keen interest to make a full asking price offer on a property.

“The agent, suspicious of the buyer’s eagerness to act quickly without having viewed the property, asked the individual to send over all personal details including identification documents. 

“When the email came through, the attachments were difficult to open. The agent passed the email to his IT department who confirmed that it contained a series of potentially destructive computer viruses.

“It is not known what impact the viruses could have had on the agent’s IT system if it had not been identified.”

Gerry Fitzjohn, TPO’s board chairman, says that fortunately in this case the scam was spotted and no company or customer details were compromised. 

But he adds: “However, this is a reminder to all agents to be both cautious and vigilant. The importance of antivirus software is a given, but it is not a guarantee against computer viruses, so the best defence is also an educated user. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. We would urge all agents to circulate this warning amongst staff.”

  • Rob Hailstone

    The Bold Legal Group has compiled a list (below) of 21 'Red Flag' warnings. Put together for conveyancers but may be helpful for agents also.

    A. BUSINESS SOURCE

    a. Unusual introducer
    b. Direct approach where reason for contact questionable
    c. Proximity of the party to their conveyancer – if there is a distance, why?

    B. SELLER CHARACTERISTICS

    a. Absent owner or landlord
    b. Owner/seller living abroad
    c. Recently issued (new) ID documents/driving licence etc
    d. Sellers lack of knowledge about the property
    e. Where the seller lives at a different address from the property and has no documentary evidence such as bills or buildings insurance schedule linking seller to the property
    f. Proximity of a signatory to the witness – if there is a distance, why? What is the relationship between the signatory and the witness?
    g. Email contact (remote client)
    h. Sole proprietor
    i. Long-time owners (high equity)

    C. PROPERTY CHARACTERISTICS

    a. Empty
    b. Tenanted
    c. Unencumbered (no mortgage)
    d. High value
    e. Unregistered
    f. Where there is no restriction on the register to comply with

    D. OTHER CHARACTERISTICS

    a. Quick sale required
    b. Quick, back to back sale (increased price)
    c. Funds going abroad or to an unusual destination
    d. End of chain transaction

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