Having your house sold out from under you seems pretty far-fetched, but two Australian cases of this have spurred a new set of guidelines for real estate agents.
Illawarra Real Estate Institute chairman Charles Hegyi has welcomed the Fair Trading guidelines which were released this week to combat an increase in identity fraud and scams in the industry.
Minister for Fair Trading Anthony Roberts said the real estate fraud prevention guidelines were developed following two incidents in Western Australia in 2010 and 2011, where two properties were sold without the knowledge and consent of the rightful owners.
"These sales were undertaken by real estate agents who were contacted by criminals masquerading as the true owners," he said.
Mr Hegyi said while a scam of this scale had not been successful in the Illawarra, the new guidelines would help agents ensure it didn't happen in the future.
"Anything that minimises or alleviates any prospect of a fraudulent act is welcomed by the Real Estate Institute," he said.
"I have read reports of houses being sold without the consent of the owner in other states, although I can't imagine that happening in the Illawarra.
"In the region, and throughout NSW, agents have to go through a lot of checks and balances to ensure they are dealing with the true owner of a property."
Mr Hegyi said he recognised that identity theft was of growing concern, and said the proof of identity checklist and fraud warning signs included in the new guidelines would be useful for Illawarra agents.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward also welcomed the new guidelines, claiming home owners who lived overseas or who had no mortgage were particularly vulnerable to scams.
"It is important that licensees in charge maintain documented sales processes and procedures and all records are retained," he said.
"If agents or consumers suspected identity fraud in a real estate transaction, they should immediately contact the NSW Police or NSW Fair Trading and not act on the sale of the property."
Fair Trading has also issued a warning about rental scams, urging the public to do their homework before responding to real estate offers.
Mr Hegyi said while, again, there were no Illawarra-specific cases, he had heard of scammers making fake rental advertisements.
"I'd urge prospective tenants to make inquiries and visit the real estate agent's office, to ensure it's a legitimate office," he said. "If anyone asks you to pay cash and not come into an office, alarm bells should ring."