Property and Identity Theft
All parties involved in property transactions should be aware of the measures available to protect against identity theft.
Identity theft is the first crucial step in most fraudulent property transactions. Homeowners can take a number of measures to minimise the likelihood of falling victim to identity fraud. The Department of the Attorney General has issued the following measures.
- Lock all personal documents in a safe container when not using them
By safely and securely storing your personal information and documents, you can prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Consider storing important documents in a fire/water proof container or safe deposit box.
- Keep copies of key documents in a secure location
If possible, make copies of your key proof of identity documents, such as your driver’s licence, birth certificate, or passport, and keep these copies in a secure location. Should the originals go missing or be destroyed, the copies could be useful in re–issuing the originals, or to verify claims that you or others may make about your identity based on these documents.
- Only carry essential personal information
Unless you really need to, do not carry important documents outside of your home. This minimises the chance of your personal information being lost or stolen.
- Destroy personal information before putting it in the bin
You should destroy all old records, files, bills, unsolicited credit card application forms, expired cards—by tearing, cutting up, shredding or burning them before you throw them in the recycling or waste paper bin. Remember to also cut up, or shred, your old driver’s licence, credit cards and storage media,such as CDs, that you have used to store computer files with personal information, prior to disposal. It is not uncommon for thieves to go through your bins in the hope of finding personal records or information.
- Put a lock on your letterbox
Ensure you have a secure lockable letterbox or post office box. Remove mail from your home mailbox as soon as possible after it has been delivered. Post mail only at secure, official post boxes. If you move house, notify everyone about your change of address, as mail sent to the wrong address could be used to steal your identity.
- Do not respond to suspicious mail or e-mail
Identity thieves may write to you or email you— offering money, or telling you that you have won the lottery—some asking you to share some of your personal details. If you don’t know who they are— don’t respond.
- Do not store personal details on mobile phones or wireless devices
Information stored on mobile or wireless devices is at risk of theft through a Bluetooth connection. You can reduce this risk by de–activating Bluetooth or turning off the ‘discoverable’ feature.
- Avoid giving personal or financial information over the phone
This is especially important with phone calls you didn’t make yourself. If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone wanting to know your personal details—hang up. If you need to provide personal information over the phone, ask for the caller’s name and number and contact them yourself.
- Ask questions
Do not just accept everything you are told from people who have called offering you ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’. Ask questions if you have concerns. Don’t agree to anything straight away. If you think the offer is legitimate—do some independent research before committing yourself. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Activate caller ID on your phone and record the numbers of unusual calls
By doing this and providing the numbers of suspect phone calls to the appropriate authorities, you can play your part in helping to stop scammers from continuing to defraud. Contact your telecommunications provider for further information on activating caller ID.
- Contact the Do Not Call Register
The Do Not Call Register allows individuals to register if they do not want to receive certain unsolicited telemarketing calls. Register via the website www.donotcall.gov.au or by phoning 1300 792 958.
- Treat any request for copying your personal documents with caution
Be wary of any businesses that want to take photocopies of your proof of identity documents, such as your driver’s licence. Ask them how the information will be used and stored. However, banks and financial institutions have a legitimate reason for keeping copies as they can assist in investigations, should a fraud occur.
- Protect your documents when you are travelling
When you are travelling overseas take extra care of your personal documents. It can be useful to leave a copy of your passport and other key travelling documents with a trusted person at home. Access to a copy can be useful in case of loss or theft of the originals. More information on official documents can be found at: www.smarttraveler.gov.au
- Order a copy of your credit report annually
By checking your credit report annually you can catch any unauthorised activity. Credit reports can be ordered from one of the three main credit reporting agencies in Australia (listed on p18).
- Check your billing and account records carefully
By carefully checking all transactions on your banking and credit card accounts you may be able to detect potential identity theft early and limit the damage. By registering for online banking you can check your accounts frequently and do not have to wait for your monthly statement. When you are banking online, ensure that the website commences with ‘https’ or has the ‘closed padlock’ symbol displayed.
- Be wary about giving your personal or financial information to anybody with whom you have not initiated contact
Anybody contacting you out of the blue and asking for your banking details, is most probably attempting a scam. However, banks and financial institutions may contact you if there is suspected fraudulent activity with your accounts, but they do not ask you to give them details that they already hold.
- Limit the credit you have in certain accounts
Use a separate account or credit card with a low credit limit, which is not linked to your other accounts, for transactions over the phone or internet. If the account is breached, any loss will be minimised. Remember, if the loss is not your fault, your financial institution should reimburse you for any money lost.
- Use passwords and access controls
By protecting your computer and important documents with passwords and access controls, you make it more difficult for scammers or identity thieves to access information directly from your computer. This is particularly important when operating a wireless connection—secure it with a password.
- Choose strong passwords and change them regularly
Ensure your passwords contain a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and other characters. Memorise the passwords, and change them regularly. Do not write them down and leave them in an obvious place, such as your wallet.
- Protect your passwords
When logging onto a site which requires you to have a logon and password, do not select the option ‘would you like the computer to remember this password’.
- Avoid giving out personal information over the internet
Only provide the minimum amount of information necessary to those individuals or companies with whom you have initiated contact. Unsolicited e–mails or offers that seem too good to be true or that require you to provide your bank account details or other personal information are almost certainly scams. Don’t reply—hit delete.
- Never click on a link or open an attachment in an e-mail from someone you don’t know and trust
Opening attachments or clicking on links in e–mails can download malicious software into your computer or can redirect you to a fake site. It is much safer to type in the web address yourself, than to rely on a link.
- Install anti-virus software
Criminals are constantly developing new viruses and programs to steal or access your personal and financial information. Anti–virus and firewall programs help to block unauthorised access to your computer. Remember to scan your computer’s files at least fortnightly and to keep the software updated.
Improved Identity Security in Property Transactions
In order to reduce the risk of WA landowners being the subject of improper dealings on their property, Landgate has introduced a number of measures.
Effective as of 18 August 2011, the Registrar of Titles will only be satisfied with witnesses who are Australian consular officers where documents are executed outside of Australia.
An Australian consular officer is defined by section 145(4) of the Transfer of Land Act 1893 as a person appointed to hold or act in any of the following offices (being an office of the Commonwealth) in a country or place outside the Commonwealth, such as:
- high commissioner
- head of mission
- chargé d’affaires
- consul or secretary at an embassy
- high commissioner’s office
- legation or other post
- trade commissioner
- consular agent
Recognising the short lead time for the introduction of this requirement, the Registrar of Titles may be satisfied with an alternate witness. If an alternate witness is required to be used in the next month, then prior approval must be sought from the Registrar of Titles or the document will be stopped and a requisition issued.
Effective as of 18 August 2011, the Registrar of Titles will require all transfers that have been executed by the parties to the transaction outside of Australia to contain evidence that those parties have been identified to the 100 point standard as detailed below:
- Birth Certificate or Extract
- Citizenship Certificate
- International Travel Document
- a current passport
- expired passport which has not been cancelled and was current within the preceding 2 years
- other document of identity having the same characteristics as a passport (e.g. this may include some diplomatic documents and some documents issued to refugees)
Note: Do not score additional points for more than one document in this category.
|Name of person verified from one of the following (but only where they contain a photograph or signature that can be matched).
- A licence or permit issued under law of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory (e.g. an Australian driver’s licence)
- An identification card issued to a public employee
- An identification card issued by the Commonwealth, State or Territory as evidence of the person’s entitlement to financial benefit
- An identification card issued to a student at a tertiary education institution
Note: Additional documents can be awarded 25 points
|40 Points for first
25 Points for additional document/s from this category.
Name and address of person verified from any of the following:
- A current employer, or a previous employer within the last 2 years
- A rating authority (e.g. land rates)
- The Credit Reference Association of Australia (subject to the Privacy Act 1988)
Land Titles Office Records
|Name, address and telephone number verified:
- By reference to the latest telephone directory published by Telstra or by advice provided by Telstra; and
By telephone contact with the signatory on that telephone number.
|Name of person verified from any other secondary identification document.
- E.g. marriage certificate (for maiden name only), credit card, council rates, telephone account, foreign driver’s licence, Medicare card etc.
Note: More than one document may be counted, but points scored from a particular source may be counted only once. E.g. If MasterCard and Visa Card issued from the same financial institution, only one may be counted.
|Name and address of the person verified from any of the following:
- The records of a public utility
- A record held under a law other than a law relating to land titles (for which see No.3)
|Name and date of birth of person verified from any of the following:
- The records of a primary, secondary or tertiary education institution attended by the signatory within the last 10 years
- The records of a professional or trade association of which the signatory is a member.
Evidence of the identity check is to consist of a statutory declaration from the conveyancer acting for the parties describing the circumstances of the identity check and copies of the identity documentation used to establish identity.
If a statutory declaration is not provided, the documents will be stopped and requisitioned. Registration will not occur until evidence to the satisfaction of the Registrar of Titles has been provided.
When checking identity documentation be mindful that forged documents have been used in past fraud attempts. It is recommended that copies of the identification evidence be kept and stored in a secure place.
Any instances of suspected fraud in relation to property transactions should be reported directly to the Registrar of Titles office on 9273 7054.
In order to reduce the risk to WA landowners from being the subject of improper dealings on their property, a new caveat service is being offered by Landgate. A Caveat (Improper Dealings) can now be lodged with Landgate. The caveat, once lodged, will stop the registration of any instruments or documents that would ordinarily need to be signed by the owner, for example:
- Mortgages; and
A Caveat (Improper Dealings) Form C4 must be made in the name of all the owners. If one of the owners does not want to be part of the caveat then it cannot be lodged. The caveat can be signed and lodged with Landgate by the owners themselves, or a Solicitor acting on behalf of all the owners. The Solicitor must be instructed by all owners to act for them in the preparation and lodgement of the caveat. A Licensed Settlement Agent does not currently have authority under the Settlements Agents Regulations 1982 to sign and lodge a caveat to prevent improper dealings on behalf of land owners.
Please note that owners who have mortgaged properties should review their mortgage terms and consult with their lending institution before lodging a Caveat (Improper Dealings) as the terms and conditions of the mortgage may prevent the lodgement of any caveat without the mortgagee’s consent.
In order to remove the Caveat, all the owners must present themselves in person at the same time at Landgate’s Midland office and satisfy, as a minimum, the requirements of a 100 point identity check using original documents, not copies. Only the owners of the property can remove the Caveat in person. For example, if the property was owned by three persons as tenants in common, and one of the owners did not wish the caveat to be lodged, then the other owners would not be able to lodge a Caveat (Improper Dealings).
In the same way, once a Caveat (Improper Dealings) is in place, if one of the (say) three owners did not want it to be withdrawn, then the other two owners could not successfully lodge a Withdrawal of Caveat form.
The Withdrawal of Caveat (Improper Dealings) can only be lodged at the time of witnessing. A Power of Attorney cannot be used to withdraw the caveat. The strength of a Caveat (Improper Dealings) is that the only way to remove it is for all the owners to attend in person at Landgate’s Midland office to identify themselves to the satisfaction of the Registrar of Titles.
Due to the operation of law, the Caveat (Improper Dealings) will not prevent the following, including but not limited to:
The current regulated fee of $160 applies for the lodgement and withdrawal of each caveat.
To access the Caveat (Improper Dealings) C4 form clicking here.
For further information contact Landgate’s Advice Line on (08) 9273 7044 or email email@example.com.
- Mortgagee exercising a power of sale would be able to use section 138B of the Transfer of Land Act 1893 as the application is not being signed by the owners;
- Sale of the property by a Local Government for non-payment of rates;
- Sale by the Sheriff under a Property (Seizure and Sale) Order;
- In the case of deceased owner(s) Survivorship and Transmission; and
- Sale under the Criminal Confiscation Act 2000.
Key Action Points for Business
To minimise the likelihood of incorrectly identifying a client take note of the following information.
- Always be vigilant if you are not dealing with an owner face-to-face but, even in this case, identity checks are recommended.
- Send confirmation of any change of contact details for clients, especially changes prior to the sale, to the original email and postal addresses and also contact the client at the previous phone number to double check.
- Don’t rely on a telephone call as a way of identifying the seller – confirm new contacts through pre-existing communication channels.
- Don’t take documents at face value and actively scrutinise them. Perform at least a 100-point identity check including one item of photo identity incorporating a signature for the parties who have an interest in the property.
- Carefully check new signatures and initials of clients with those on file and any relevant personal information.
- In the course of providing customer service, do not disclose information or provide documents unless you have verified the owner’s identity and confirmed contact details
- If in doubt, verify official documents with the issuing body and not the person who is seeking to rely upon them. Be alert if the witness to any documentation is listed as “Notary Public” from a country known for scams.
- Be cautious of new generic email addresses such as hotmail, yahoo, gmail etc.
- Don’t just press reply to emails – create new emails with the known address as the email sent may be disguised.
- Ask questions that only the owner would know or set up security questions if the owner is going overseas.
- Exercise caution if the bank account details that are provided by the alleged seller are different from those on file, particularly if it is an overseas bank account.
- Consider asking for early payment fees, as some scammers resist making a financial outlay.
- Make further inquiries if:
- For any reason, the transaction appears irregular or unusual communications from the client, such as letters or emails, are in poor English, or to a different standard than previous communications.
- If the client is reluctant or unable to provide required information or original documents.
- The client is in a remote location or outside of WA. This could include asking questions about the property which only the true owner would know, but others are unlikely to know.
- There have been recent changes to contact details.
- Documents originate from overseas.
- The transaction involves a country known for scams.
- The transaction is said to be urgent. For example, funds are urgently needed for business investments.
- Official documents use poor English.
Learn about Verification of Identity Practice
Please contact us on 08 9273 7341 or email Customer Service us for any enquires.
|MoneySmart Australian Securities and Investments Commission
|SCAMwatch Australian Competition & Consumer Commission
|WAPOL - Western Australia Police Major Fraud Squad
Western Australian Land Information Authority