Gold Coast couple lose deposit for family home in $39,000 email scam

Prospective home buyers are being warned to be careful after a Gold Coast couple lost nearly $40,000 in a sophisticated email scam targeting real estate agents and their excited clients.

Mitch Wilson and Penny Davies have lost what they say amounts to their live savings after transferring the large lump sum to their real estate agent to pay for a deposit on a new family home.

Or so they thought.

It turned out fraudsters had hacked into the email account of their real estate agent and nefariously requested cash into accounts they controlled.

The Gold Coast couple have been left distraught after the costly mistake.
The Gold Coast couple have been left distraught after the costly mistake. Source: Nine News

"We got an email from the real estate agent we were dealing with," Mr Wilson explained to Nine News Gold Coast.

"From their email account, saying in light of the contract, please pay money to this account."

The couple, who are expecting their second child, then transferred $39,000 into the account stated in the email.

Blissfuly unaware, days later their real estate agent texted the couple to say they never received the money.

Poring back over emails and bank statements, it became apparent something sinister had taken place.

"It ended up in some fraudsters account and then offshored to some crypto account," Mr Wilson said.

Speaking to Nine News, the crestfallen couple are now warning it could happen to anyone.

"It plays over and over in my head all the time," Ms Davies said.

The email from hackers reportedly came via the account of the real estate agent. Source: Nine News/Getty
The email from hackers reportedly came via the account of the real estate agent. Source: Nine News/Getty

Sally Tindall, Research Director at RateCity, a consumer finance service, says home buyers are a potentially lucrative target for sophisticated cyber criminals, especially when first home buyers can get caught up in the frenzy of a rising market.

"When you’re dealing with anything … particularly with a transaction as big as a housing deposit, it’s important to make sure you're crossing your 't's and dotting your 'i's," she told Yahoo News Australia.

Before sending large sums of money, "pick up the phone and make sure you know who you're dealing with," she said.

"Our research shows that almost one in three people have fallen victim to a financial scam – an alarming statistic that’s likely to keep on rising as scammers become more widespread and more cunning in their attacks."

While banks can often refund money to customers who become the victim of hackers, the fate of the Gold Coast couple's deposit remains unclear.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the couple's real estate agent from which the hacked email reportedly came from but repeated calls have gone unanswered.

Police warn over 'business email compromise' scams

The type of scam which Mitch Wilson and Penny Davies fell victim to is known as a business email compromise (BEC) scam or attack.

In July 2021, Australian Federal Police said BEC scams had cost Australians $79 million in the previous 12 months.

At the time, AFP Commander Cybercrime Operations Chris Goldsmid urged victims to come forward as soon as they suspect something

"Don’t be embarrassed if you fall victim, report it immediately to your bank and the police to give us the best chance of recovering your money.

"If you are transferring money online do your due diligence, ensure you are comfortable that you are sending the money to the correct person and account.

"If you think an email is suspicious, make further enquiries. Call and check directly with the business or organisation you are dealing with."

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