Alert as new scam defrauds property sellers

Law firms across South Africa are on high alert about a new scam, which has seen house sellers conned out of their profits to the tune of hundreds of thousands of rand.

Already, 32 cases have been reported, involving sums ranging from R45 000 to R488 000, and a police investigation is also pending.

The scam sees con artists preying on conveyancers dealing with the transfer of properties that have been sold, and stealing the money before it reaches the sellers' bank accounts.

Weekend Argus understands that 32 cases involving the same modus operandi have been reported to the Attorneys Insurance Indemnity Fund (AIIF). Conveyancers in Cape Town, Joburg, Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg, Nelspruit, Bloemfontein, King William's Town and Polokwane have fallen prey to the scam.

In all but one of the 32 cases, the bond cancellation bank was the same. The AIIF has met the forensic investigator at the bank.

Head of risk at Nedbank Home Loans, Greg Salter, confirmed that "isolated fraudulent instructions have taken place, in which attorney firms have been instructed to change the particulars of bank accounts into which funds were to be deposited, as a result of a bond transfer or cancellation.

"The attorney firms with whom Nedbank deals in respect of home loans have all been made aware of the measures that need to be taken to prevent any parties from falling victim to this criminal behaviour," he added.

A forensic investigation is underway, and the bank is "engaging" with police and other banks to identify the perpetrators and "protect our clients' interests".

The AIIF was unable to comment on the issue, but its legal risk manager, Ann Bertelsmann, recently sent out a special alert to the legal fraternity. In it, she informed firms that the AIIF had started receiving notifications from conveyancers last year.

The scam artists struck at a time when a property was about to be transferred, or on the day the transfer was expected to go through.

"These are all cases where, once the property has been transferred, the seller will be entitled to the proceeds of the sale after settlement of mortgage bonds, etcetera," Bertelsmann said.

Once the money was paid into the alternative bank account, it was withdrawn almost immediately. The scam was uncovered when the real seller queried why the proceeds had not been paid.

The Law Society of South Africa has also sent out an advisory warning attorneys of the scam, and it has been posted on conveyancing website Ghost Digest.

Notices have also been handed out at deeds offices.

(Weekend Argus - Sunday Edition)

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