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Purchaser loses deposit to email fraud

A recent decision of the NSW Supreme involving the hacking of a real estate agents email, serves as a timely reminder of the need to remain vigilante against cyber fraud (Deligiannidou v Sundarjee).

In this case, a real estate agent sent email correspondence to the purchaser of a property directing them to pay the deposit by EFT into the real estate agent’s trust account.

A few days later, the purchaser received an email purporting to be from the real estate agent with an attached invoice and payment details, requesting that the purchaser pay the deposit as soon as possible. This was in fact a fraudulent email and the account details provided were for a fraudulent account, not the real estate agent’s trust account.

The purchaser paid the balance deposit into the fraudulent account. The purchaser provided a screenshot of the payment to the real estate agent who also failed to notice that the funds were paid into the incorrect account.

The vendors (who had had no direct dealings with the purchasers) subsequently served a notice of termination of the Contract on the basis that the balance deposit had not been received by either the sellers or the real estate agent.

The Court held that the agent did not have authority to authorise the payment to be made by EFT as the contract specifically provided that the deposit was to be paid by cash or cheque. Accordingly as the buyer had paid the deposit by an incorrect means they were in breach of the contract and the seller was entitled to terminate the contract.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

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