The real estate industry body has sent out a warning and advice to its members about how to avoid a new scam targeting home buyer's deposits.

The warning comes after Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden revealed concerns about the scam in the Herald yesterday.

She said real estate agents and lawyers were being targeted by a sophisticated "invoice scam" in which fraudsters hack into the email of those companies and then send out legitimate-looking invoices.

Instead of the invoice having the bank account of the law firm or real estate agent it is replaced by a scammer's account number.

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Homebuyers are then tricked into paying their deposit money to fraudsters instead of a legitimate trust account.

Bindi Norwell, chief executive of REINZ (Real Estate Institute of New Zealand) said it was aware of a handful of incidents around the country where scammers had targeted home buyer deposits through lawyers and estate agents.

"We have alerted our members to this issue and are in the process of developing a guidance sheet for agents around how to avoid cyber fraud."

In the meantime Norwell said it was advising agents to encourage their clients to phone
and check the bank account number directly with the law firm or real estate agent prior to making a transfer.

"If people suspect they have been the victim of fraud, then they should talk to their local police station immediately," she urged.

Bindi Norwell, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, says it is aware of a handful of cases of a real estate deposit scam and is warning agents to watch out. Photo/Supplied.
Bindi Norwell, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, says it is aware of a handful of cases of a real estate deposit scam and is warning agents to watch out. Photo/Supplied.

The New Zealand Law Society also reiterated a previous warning to its members yesterday urging lawyers to be vigilant.

"The New Zealand Law Society is repeating earlier warnings to lawyers to be vigilant in ensuring their IT systems are secure against incursion and to be very careful in reacting to emails inviting them to open attachments.

"Emails with attachments or an invitation to click on a link cannot be trusted even if they appear to come from a known source. Verification by phone, where there is the slightest suspicion, is recommended," it said.

The society said its warning followed a number of instances in the past week of law firms being attacked or compromised by criminal fraudsters.

A spokesman for the law society said it would not name the firms or say how many had been affected.

ANZ bank also sent out a warning to customers on Tuesday after becoming aware of an example of the scam three weeks ago.

In that case a Morrinsville woman lost her $28,500 deposit after she was sent bank account details by what she thought was the real estate agent who was managing the listing.

It turned out later the email came from a scammer not the real estate agent.

The woman only managed to complete the house purchase after another real estate company, who she had also been dealing with, stepped up and paid the deposit.

A spokeswoman for ANZ bank said it was raising awareness of the scam with both its staff and customers as well as running sessions for accountants, solicitors, real estate agents and other commercial customers to make them aware of business email compromise scams.

But she said these types of scams were hard for banks to pick up on.

"These types of scams are difficult to pick up because they're fully authenticated transactions where the customer has approved the change of payee.

"To help avoid these scams we're focused on prevention and education activities to help customers put the right processes in place."

HOW TO AVOID INVOICE SCAMS
• Be cautious when making payments to bank accounts that you have not paid before.
• Making a call to the company's registered address to verify their bank account number is recommended.
• Examine sender details carefully, watching for similar domain names or characters that have been swapped for other letters.
• Be wary of last minute changes to payment instructions, especially if made outside normal business hours.
• For business owners, ensure staff handling payments are trained to recognise suspicious emails.
Source: ANZ Bank