Fraudsters selling homes under owners' names: Property industry urged to remain 'vigilant'

by Mackenzie McCarty29 Aug 2013

A spate of scams involving overseas fraudsters stealing property owners' identities and then attempting (in some cases, successfully) to sell their houses is raising serious concerns in Western Australia.

The latest incident, involving a Nigerian scam artist arrested earlier this month, serves as a ‘timely reminder’ to those in the property industry, according to Landgate.

On August 15, Nigerian man Ntuen Promise Ekenmini, was arrested in his home country after he allegedly contacted the property manager of a Mandurah real estate agency in December last year, purporting to be the owner of a home managed by the agency. Ekenmini allegedly used a Yahoo email address in the name of one of the real owners and requested that all future correspondence be forwarded to the new email address and all phone contact be made through a new mobile number.

On January 18, 2013, the agency received a request to sell the property and a sales agreement with false signatures was then completed by the offender(s) and returned to the agent, together with copies of fake passports and a forged document claiming to be from the Australian High Commission in Pretoria (the real owners were South African), confirming their identity.

Suspicions were eventually raised by staff at the agency who had attended an anti-fraud education seminar.

However, this is not the first such incident of land title fraud in Western Australia. The first successful operation of this kind was reported in September, 2010, when home owner Roger Mildenhall, based in South Africa, discovered his investment home in Karrinyup (suburb of Perth) had been sold for $AU485,000 in August, 2010 without his knowledge or consent by the agent who was managing the property on his behalf.

In April, 2011, a home in Ballajura (another suburb of Perth), owned by a couple who were living in Nigeria at the time, was sold for $410,000 allegedly by Nigerian fraudsters without the knowledge or permission of the real owners. The fraudulent sale was not reported until August, 2011 when the owners returned to Perth wanting to inspect the property.

In both these cases the funds were transferred to bank accounts in China.

“This is a timely reminder to conveyancers and other property professionals…that with vigilance, together, we can reduce fraud in land titles,” say Landgate registrar of titles, Jean Villani and commissioner of titles, Susan Dukes.

“The fraudsters have not disappeared due to one arrest and your diligence in carrying out a high standard of identity verification is a critical step to ensure we minimise the risk of land related fraud in Western Australia.”

The Western Australian Registrar and Commissioner of Titles Joint Practice: Verification of Identity (‘the Practice’) is designed to strengthen the WA land titles system and to reduce the opportunity for successful land title fraud as a result of identity theft or other improper dealings.