Offshore fraudsters could be targeting absentee property owners in the nation’s capital.
A Canberra property has been sold by foreign con artists unbeknownst to its absentee owner, prompting the launch of an overseas investigation by ACT police.
The property situated in the north Canberra suburb of Macgregor was sold by parties overseas without the owner 's knowledge while she was residing in South Africa. The owner of the property was only made aware of the sale four months after it transpired, when she pursued inquiries with the property manager about the suspension of rental payments.
ACT Police have consulted with their counterparts in South Africa to help determine how the fraud was effected.
"Police will investigate a series of exchanges which led to the sale of the property without the owner's knowledge or consent, and the disbursement of the funds generated by the deception," said an ACT Police spokeswoman in a statement.
ACT authorities have also warned local residents about the possibility of similar acts of fraudulence being perpetrated - especially in the case of their prolonged absence abroad.
"ACT Policing has joined with the ACT Office of Regulatory Services and ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell in warning home owners to be vigilant of scammers, particularly if an owner is residing or travelling overseas," said the spokeswoman. "The absence of the home owner and an inability to personally review documentation which may be fraudulent provides leverage for the scammers to operate."
"Police would urge home owners residing overseas or travelling overseas for a lengthy period to establish robust protocols which protect and confirm their bona fides."
Corbell said the government would refrain from disclosing further information on the fraudulent transaction due to continued uncertainty surrounding the matter. He did indicate, however, that documentation attesting to the sale had been delivered to the Office of Regulatory Services on July 11, and that the office was in the process of reviewing circumstances surrounding the transaction.
Corbell said the government was highly concerned that "a scam of this magnitude may have affected residents of the ACT."
While authorities believe the scam may be the first of its kind in the ACT, it follows upon the commission of similar fraudulent acts in Western Australia several years ago, which police subsequently traced to the Nigerian capital of Lagos.
Those cases prompted Western Australia to launch an unprecedented reform of its property sector, including the introduction of a ban on real estate agents transferring the proceeds of property transactions to foreign accounts, and the addition of two more levels of identity checks.