Why safety should be your top priority when selecting a settlement agent


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Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. So goes the old adage, and a handful of Perth people have learnt this lesson the hard way.

A recent ABC News report told the story of one such victim. An elderly pensioner was in the process of purchasing a property in Perth’s western suburbs when internet scammers struck. By intercepting emails between the pensioner’s son, who was acting on her behalf, and the settlement agent, these scammers were able to access sensitive information about the purchase. And they knew exactly how to use it.

The son received an email from someone whom he believed was the settlement agent, stating that the settlement agency’s trust account details had changed and asking that the final payment for the property be transferred into another account. The email was convincing, and he had no reason to doubt the request. By the time anyone realised what had happened, it was too late. Over half a million dollars was gone, never to be seen again.

In August, another settlement agency was stung for $25,658 in a cyber-attack. Then in September, three prospective tenants received fraudulent emails from the hacked account of a property manager, congratulating them on their successful applications and requesting payment. More than $7,000 was transferred into the scammers’ accounts, just like that.

Imagine landing the home of your dreams, only to find yourself plunged into a nightmare. Make no mistake – you’re not immune. It only takes one false step to slip into the chasm of financial ruin. These hackers aren’t stupid, and telling the real from the fake isn’t as easy as you might think. Just one piece of malware can expose your email communication, and the sensitive information that goes with it.

More than ever, we need to take responsibility for our own protection. These heartbreaking stories serve as a timely warning to buyers and sellers, settlement agents, real estate agents, financial institutions, and anyone else involved with property transactions. When it comes to housing transactions, a robust security protocol isn’t optional; it’s an absolute necessity. And it should be your top priority when selecting a settlement agent.

You owe it to yourself and your investment to find an agent that treats the security of your transaction with the utmost care. At Residential Settlements, nothing could be more important to us. ‘Safe, simple, transparent’ – that’s our motto, and it’s one we live by.

Here’s our guide to security measures you can use to keep your information and transactions safe and secure.

Physical security
Security starts in the office. Our third-floor location, out-of-hours swipe card access and monitored alarm mean physical intrusion is no easy feat! If that’s not enough, the entire building is safeguarded by an additional alarm system.

Our conveyancers work from our office, so your information never leaves our system. You won’t find your conveyancer working on your file from a coffee shop where your confidential information can be stolen by a hacker using packet sniffing software.

Virus Protection

Strong passwords
Our computers are protected with premium password management software. You won’t find passwords scrawled on sticky notes, written on the inside cover of a diary, or in filing cabinets. And our passwords are extremely long and complex, making our computers very difficult to hack.

Digital file storage
Settlement agents are required to store files for at least six years after settlement. That’s six years your file is in their possession, so it makes sense to know where and how your sensitive data is being stored. Is it safe from theft? Could it be destroyed by fire? Who can access it?

After settlement, we scan every last page of your file and store it on our server with access restricted to only those who need it. Once the file is scanned, all paper is destroyed using a professional records destruction service. Your file will never be stored in a home garage, spare bedroom, or self-lock storage facility.

Strong Passwords

Virus protection
We keep your confidential information safe and sound with effective, up-to-date virus and malware protection and multiple backups per day.

Two-factor authentication
We take email security seriously and that’s why we’ve implemented two-factor authentication (2FA) on our email logins. This means a password isn’t enough to gain access – a passcode, sent to a device controlled by the user, is also required. Rest easy knowing that all email correspondence is private and confidential. Even if you’re using snail mail, our PO Box means scammers have less chance of intercepting sensitive information. We go even further with our trust accounts, using an encryption device that authenticates our connection with the bank to deliver a third level of protection.

Our website, too, has multiple layers of security. Most importantly, our website includes an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. SSL is the industry standard technology for protecting the integrity and privacy of the connection between our web server and your browser, ensuring an extremely low risk of identity theft. Our website also has advanced intrusion detection and prevention methods operating 24/7.

Of course, all this is very well, but you also need to know you can trust the people that are handling your information. That’s why we’re absolutely rigorous about who we employ, and our licensee shares our open-plan office to provide direct oversight. All prospective employees are required to provide a WA police clearance certificate and multiple references, and we conduct monthly one-on-one meetings with every team member. We only employ the best, so you can rest easy knowing your information is completely safe within our walls.

On their own, none of these layers is particularly impressive. But together, they constitute a state-of-the-art security system that actively protects your private information. We are constantly reviewing our risk and crisis management processes to be sure that even if our building burned down, we’d be back up and running within hours. But you can never be too careful, and our $5 million professional indemnity insurance policy is in place so that if the worst were to happen, we’ve got you covered.

It goes without saying that you should never share financial information over an unsecure connection, least of all when we’re talking about transactions of this magnitude. Question your settlement agent thoroughly about their security protocols – give them the third degree if you have to! And if you’re not sure whether their security is good enough, it probably isn’t. Don’t put your investment and your future at risk. Find a settlement agent that values the security of your investment as much as you do.

Staff writer

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