Masterchef's Dani Venn pries funds back after accusing PEXA of blackmail after conveyancing scam

Masterchef's Dani Venn pries funds back after accusing PEXA of blackmail after conveyancing scam
Masterchef's Dani Venn pries funds back after accusing PEXA of blackmail after conveyancing scam

Former MasterChef contestant Dani Venn and her husband Chris Burgess had fears some $250,000 from the proceeds of their home sale had been lost, through their conveyancing which was utilising PEXA, Australia's new online property transfer system. 

Property Exchange Australia (PEXA) has come out and advised the PEXA system wasn't hacked. 

However the company, whose platform allows financial settlements to be completed electronically, has announced however that they have "begun work developing additional alerts and processes to further enhance security in the system."

The money was stolen from their conveyancer's PEXA account with a cyber criminal setting up a false user.

The conveyancer was transferring the funds to their bank account to complete the settlement for the new property, however the money was taken by a hacker who hacked into the conveyancer’s email account, pressing the ‘forgot password’ button, intercepting the email to create a new password, logging in and unbeknown to the conveyancer created a new user.

The hacker changed the bank details to their bank account. 

PEXA initially claimed that they were not liable for a hacker compromising the workspace of a user’s account and that they have a two-step verification process.

The Venn's had just sold their Melbourne home, with a move to the Mornington Peninsula on the horizon.

Venn said it was always their dream to live near the sea.

They moved out of their old house on June 22 and a day later Venn posted to Facebook to say they had 12 days to come up with around $120,000 or lose $80,000 house deposit for their new home and more.

"We are living every family's worst nightmare", Venn told Fairfax Media which featured her plight on the front page of The Age.

Dani and the kids moved in with her mother, while Chris slept in a caravan. 

"We were told that our money had been stolen and redirected to a CBA account, the CBA were informed by PEXA and froze that money.

"We were told that the ‘funds had been frozen’ but the CBA would not put in writing that this was the case.

"We were made to believe our money was recoverable. It was not until the CBA made our conveyancer sign an indemnity form, wiping their hands of all responsibility, that they told us a few minutes before our new property was due to be settled on Wednesday that approx $107,000 was missing and was unrecoverable.

"We’ve never experienced anything like this feeling, total utter heartbreak and disgust in the system we have trusted in all our lives and a government that is supposed to protect us from ever being in a situation like this."

Venn started a GoFundMe page in an ambitious attempt to recoup $120,000 before they defaulted on their new purchase.

Titled Hacked out of home, the page raised over $15,000 in one day of posting.

Donations have slowed and the page has seen $16,981 given by 72 people.

Tonight speaking with 2GB's Ross Greenwood, Dani said PEXA had last Friday attempted to “blackmail” her and her husband into accepting a loan on condition that she didn’t criticise them after she indicated she'd be taking the story public to the media.

Since Dani’s story also aired on A Current Affair, PEXA has agreed to pay the full amount that was stolen.

"This is the only sensible decision that PEXA could have made and it beggars belief that it took pressure from ACA to achieve it," ACA host Tracey Grimshaw said.

Venn told Greenwood it was a terrifying experience, adding that over the past week funds had been progressively recovered amounts including $59,000 this afternoon so that not as much was missing.

“You can’t ever describe it.

“It’s just this sick pit in your stomach, you feel angry and frustrated, disappointed in the system you’ve only put faith in your whole life.

“Most people have worked so hard to get a house deposit in the first place and you just feel your whole life savings ripped from underneath you through no fault of your own.

“What was worrying was that there was no alert to notify our conveyancer there was a new user on his system.”

Richard Smith, founder of specialist insurtech Edmund Cyber Insurance, said real estate agents underestimate the threat of cyber crime.

“The threat to real estate agents is the same as it is for larger businesses, but unfortunately, many of them under-estimate it”, Smith said.

“The concern is that criminals are now directly targeting real estate agents and there are a number of reasons why, including the perception that they are easier to attack, because their security policies are not robust or sophisticated.”

The big four banks, state governments and Macquarie Group are all shareholders in PEXA.

There had been plans for a $1.1 billion sharemarket listing but The Australian DataRoom column has suggested the prospect of listing has faded. 

PEXA, who have been approached for comment, had previously said the hacking incident won't affect any mooted plans.

 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

Tags: 
Conveyancing Pexa

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