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The importance of ‘securing’ data to prevent cyber crime

After a Gold Coast couple lost $40,000 in a property transaction scam, lawyers, conveyancers, and real estate agents have expressed the importance of data protection platforms.

user iconLauren Croft
Wed, 07 Sep 2022
The importance of ‘securing’ data to prevent cyber crime
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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Cyber Security Connect’s sister brand, Lawyer’s Weekly.

Last month, Mitch Wilson and Penny Davies thought they were following instructions from their agent when they transferred their deposit to a bank account.

However, what appeared to be an email from their real estate agent was actually from a scammer — who had hacked into an email account and sent a fraudulent email.

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Following this — and other similar cases — a number of industry professionals have started using third-party software to securely transfer funds and sensitive information.

The head of InfoTrack’s property team in Australia and key spokesperson for property exchange platform Securexchange, Lee Bailie, is working collaboratively with lawyers, conveyancers, and real estate agents to combat the risk of financial theft during the sale and settlement of a property.

“Everyone is learning how unsafe it is to share sensitive information via email, but because it’s an everyday form of communication that is familiar and common, people get complacent,” Bailie said.

“They see the horror stories in the media and don’t think those situations will happen to them. Meanwhile hackers are becoming more and more sophisticated at targeting high volume transactions, especially property transactions, and know exactly when to pounce.”

Nicholas Gould, managing director of Colwell Conveyancing Group (previously David Colwell Lawyers), has been working closely with his staff on being diligent and using third-party software to ensure that their clients are completely protected and educated on the risks of cyber crime.

“Securing our data is critical to our business,” he said.

“We prioritise the use of technology platforms to ensure we provide the highest level of protection for our customers and their information.”

This follows an overhaul of the country’s cyber security strategy by Home Affairs Minister and Minister for Cyber Security Clare O’Neil, who ordered her department to “recast the cyber security strategy”, which was rushed out during the COVID-19 pandemic by former prime minister Scott Morrison in mid-2020.

Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) chief executive Antonia Mercorella has been a big advocate of cyber security awareness and advocates for all parties involved in the buying, selling, and leasing of property to be vigilant, particularly during settlement periods.

“Most businesses are at risk of cyber attacks, but sadly, cyber crime is becoming a very significant issue for both real estate practitioners, conveyancers and lawyers, mortgage lenders and their clients involved in real estate transactions,” she said.

“We recommend steering clear of emails to send and receive bank account information, and instead opt to use third party secure payment platforms that have multi-factor authentication as a much safer option.”

Police have also urged parties to double-check any bank information with businesses before paying any invoices or transferring funds.

“In August alone, we saw 10,000 property transactions handled securely within our Securexchange platform. This is a positive sign that our industry is coming together to fight back, but we have a long way to go to build awareness,” Bailie added.

“Vendors and purchasers need to feel confident that their appointed professionals are putting steps in place to protect them against the growing threats of cyber crime. This wasn’t the case for the unlucky couple.”

[Related: TikTok hacked, denies security breach allegations]

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