Why is my conveyancer worried about cyber security?

Why you need to be a Nervous Nellie when it comes to emails

TL:DR: Never trust an email especially if it contains account details.

What do you picture when you think about a hacker / scammer? Is it a 20 something year old male sitting in the basement of his parent’s house? An email asking for your bank account so a Nigerian prince can pay you money?

Look you’re right but targeting online transactions and interception of funds is now BIG business with university educated employees. How big? According to the ACCC, in January to June 2022 Australians lost a staggering $295.2 million to scams. This is more than double the number in the January to June 2021 period.

Now think about the sale of your property – potentially you’re going to be paying some money to your real estate agent upfront for marketing and generally you’re expecting some money to come back to you after Settlement once your mortgage is paid out. Your purchase? Well, a deposit will need to be paid to the real estate agent – maybe twice with an initial and balance deposit and most likely you will transfer funds to your solicitor.

Guess who has worked out that settlements involve the transfer of large sums of money and account details PLUS these payment requests are usually communicated by email (because hey we’re modern and don’t post/fax/send telegrams anymore). That’s right – those university educated big businesses! They have worked out if they hack into the email account of a real estate agent or lawyer and send a request for payment that most people will trust this request and this is why this scam incredibly difficult to identify.

Property transactions and Settlements involve the communication of sensitive details such as account details and the transfer of large sums of money – combined with high stress and trust means that these transactions are targeted.

What do these emails look like? Some examples:

  • An email from a real estate agent to the Seller at the start noting marketing fees are now due and attaching an invoice. This email has originated from the agent but the email has been intercepted – the account details on the invoice have been changed to the hackers account and then forwarded to the unsuspecting Seller.
  • An email from a solicitor to a buyer noting Settlement is due shortly and to pay into the noted account. This email originated from the solicitor but the email has been intercepted – the account details in the email body OR pdf letter attachment have been changed to the hackers account and then forwarded. This one is tricky because everything looks as it should – language, wording, timing of payment, graphics etc – it’s purely a change to the account details.
  • An email from the real estate agent to the buyer advising that their trust account details have changed and to update their records for the next deposit instalment. This one may be easier to spot as it has not originated from the agent – the hacker has initiated this request but still these people are watching emails and learning how the agents communicate.
  • An email from the Seller to the solicitor advising of their account details for payment of the balance settlement funds. Again, this email started off as a genuine email but it has been intercepted in order to amend the account details.

This is scary stuff BUT we can’t stop the fact that real estate transactions need to involve these communications and funds transfers. So now we look for ways to secure this information – the start of this is an acknowledgement that no email is safe, regardless of who sent it or how genuine it looks.

We have compiled some practical tips on how to keep your funds safe – at any time. Find them here.


This information does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with a lawyer to obtain independent legal advice relevant to your situation.

Sign up to our newsletter

For exclusive buying and selling insights, helpful tips, and updates straight to your inbox.

"*" indicates required fields

Latest articles

Here we share expert insights and updates on all things conveyancing to help you navigate the buying or selling process with confidence and ease.

Need your contract checked,

like now?

We’re all about ensuring you don’t get caught out. We offer a free, same-day contract review and quote so you can try us, before you commit. No strings attached. If you like us, we’re already underway.

Review my contract