Online phishing and rental scam hits Australian real estate industry

Online scams that have troubled global real estate firm RE/MAX for 12 months have spread to Australia, with the remax.com.au home page now including a pop-up message warning consumers to be vigilant and report any suspicious-looking emails.

The most suspicious emails include use of the RE/MAX logo or RE/MAX distinctive hot-air balloon, but with spelling mistakes and other obvious errors.

With the heading “Scam alert” the RE/MAX home page pop-up warns Australian consumers of a recent phishing scam, “which exploits the RE/MAX brand in an effort to gain consumers’ e-mail login credentials”.

The real estate network reminds consumers that it will never ask for passwords or personal information and asks that all suspicious emails be sent to [email protected]

Lisa Campbell, national marketing and communications manager at RE/MAX, says the scams are targeted at both its estate agents and the public in different ways – the agents by asking them to verify their email accounts in order to steal their identities and the public with the rental scams.

“When the first run of scams commenced, I believe we did have one member of the public who did transfer money to a scam email account.

“Since then however, we have found that we have received calls from the public checking with us first and to see if it was a legitimate email and are warned instantly to discard the email.

“We have kept at the forefront with email notifications, pop-ups on our website, along with social networking the scams through our public pages to ensure the general public and our network are all aware to be careful and that we will never ask for money nor your log-in details ever,” she says.

RE/MAX is also working with The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to address the issue.

One scam email seen by Property Observer came with the email address of [email protected], sent on September 4, 2012 with the recipient asked due to a “recent upgrade of our systems” to confirm his or her RE/MAX account.

“So you are required to logon to your Online RE/MAX Account with the provided link below.”

Another scam email sent to an agent on September 13 reads:

“Am interested in purchasing a property in your territory. I want to find out if you have got any property for sale. How much is it and other details ? Please send me a message to my personal Emai: [email protected] Hope to hear from you soon.”

The RE/MAX global home page warns of an apartment rental scam that has caught out people in the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, and other countries with as much as US$2,000 involved in one transaction.

“In one version of the scam, the consumer who answers the ad receives an e-mail from someone purporting to be the property owner.

“The e-mail includes a link to a Web site that describes the fake rental transaction service.

“The Web site may look somewhat official because it uses RE/MAX logos and graphics and it may include links to actual pages of remax.com.

“In some cases, the e-mail refers the consumer to the actual RE/MAX website, remax.com (although RE/MAX World Headquarters, which operates remax.com, does not operate a rental transaction service).”

The RE/MAX global site explains that the renter is also asked for a mailing address – and then receives an e-mail that looks as though it was sent from RE/MAX.

“The e-mail may have an official-looking transaction number in the subject line or text. The e-mail lists the renter’s address for the supposed delivery of the keys and lease and gives instructions to wire the apartment deposit via Western Union or Money Gram to a RE/MAX representative.”

For advice on navigating hotspots, download our free eBook: Tools for Getting Through the Hotspot Maze. This article first appeared on Property Observer.

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