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Pillars of Justice

Navigating Cybersecurity Risks in Property Transactions and Avoiding Scams

As the world becomes increasingly digital, property transactions have also moved to online platforms. While this shift offers convenience, it also introduces significant cybersecurity risks that can have devastating consequences for those involved.

“Whether you are buying, selling, or leasing real estate, individuals and professionals must remain vigilant against cyber threats,” says Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa. Similarly, Paul Stevens, CEO of Just Property, emphasizes the importance of using verified agents for conducting property transactions to mitigate risks. By taking necessary precautions and consulting professionals, buyers, tenants, and landlords can reduce the risk of falling victim to property scams.

Here are some essential tips to avoid property scams in South Africa:

  1. Use a Reputable Estate Agent: Always ensure your estate agent is registered with the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (PPRA). You can verify an agent’s registration on the PPRA’s website.

  2. Verify Legitimacy: Conduct thorough research to verify the property and the seller or landlord. Check if the property exists on Google Maps and if the landlord/seller can provide identification for verification.

  3. Meet in Person: Insist on meeting with the agent at their office or the landlord/seller in person before viewing the property to confirm their identity.

  4. Protect Personal Information: Be cautious when providing personal or financial information online and use secure platforms for transactions.

  5. Be Wary of Unrealistic Deals: Deals that seem too good to be true often are. If the rental or sales price is significantly lower than the market average, it could be a scam.

  6. Avoid Upfront Payments: Legitimate agents and property developers will not ask for upfront payments beyond lease drawing and credit checks. If a landlord demands a deposit before viewing the property, it’s a red flag.

  7. Consult Legal Professionals: Ensure all documentation is legitimate by consulting with legal professionals and bona fide property experts who can detect discrepancies.

  8. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels suspicious, walk away.

Stevens advises, “Buyers should check their agent’s credentials by asking for their Fidelity Fund Certificate number and verifying it with the PPRA. Additionally, confirm the agent and their branch with the property company’s Head Office. Complete paperwork in person at the office and verify deposit payments with the relevant bank.”

Landlords and tenants should exercise similar caution. Property agencies like Just Property protect tenants by placing rental deposits in trust accounts and partnering with regulated providers such as PayProp. These agencies also use expert verification tools for additional security.

Goslett highlights that cyber criminals are adept at mimicking reputable businesses. Therefore, it is crucial to double-check and research to ensure you are working with a legitimate agent or brand:

  1. Verify Contact Information: Google the agent’s cell number and email address to ensure they match the details on their profile on the agency’s website.

  2. Beware of Email Spoofing: Ensure the email address matches your agent’s or conveyancer’s exact email address, or corresponds precisely with a reputable brand’s URL. Suspicious subject lines often contain typos or sender’s email addresses.

  3. Check Property Listings: Verify the property listing on the agency’s website. Be cautious if a property is only listed on social media and not on any official property portal or agency website.

  4. Verify Payment Details: Never pay money to anyone unless you can verify their legitimacy. Avoid trusting individuals who contact you only via social media and request payments. Payments should only be made to verified business bank accounts, typically handled by the transferring attorney or real estate agent.

“As property transactions continue to migrate towards digital platforms, the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated. Mitigating cyber risks requires a proactive approach. By being aware of the risks and working with reputable brands and portals, you can navigate the complexities of property transactions with confidence in the face of evolving cyber threats,” concludes Goslett.

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