A recent NSW case involving the hacking of Real Estate Agent’s email, provides a warning to all parties in real estate transactions to be vigilant when transferring funds. In Deligiannidou v Sundarjee [2020] NSWSC 437, an estate agent sent the buyer an email reminding them to pay the deposit by EFT, setting out their trust account details. Two days later, the buyer received another email from (what appeared to be) the agent, attaching an invoice for the payment of the remaining deposit. The email was a part of the previous email chain, including the previous email that requested the EFT payment. However, the BSB and account number in both the first and second email had been changed to match the fraudulent details. The buyer paid the deposit by EFT into the fraudulent account, failing to notice the change in BSB and account details from a previous payment. The agent also failed to notice the different account details in the screenshot confirming payment. The agent’s direction to the buyer to pay the deposit by EFT into the agent’s trust account was contrary to the terms of the contract, which require payment by cash or cheque. Consequently, the Court had to considered whether the agent was authorised by the seller to direct payment by EFT. The Court ruled that the agency appointment did not authorize the agent to act on behalf of the seller when accepting payment of the deposit as stakeholder or under the contract. As a result, the buyer was in breach for failing to pay the deposit in accordance with the contract or as directed by the seller. Whether the real estate agent was liable to the buyer in its capacity as a stakeholder was not an issue considered by the Court. This case demonstrates that parties should not rely on details conveyed by email, and when transferring large amount of money, details should always be confirmed with the sender of the email personally.

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