Business Bytes, 2019-04 Edition
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Property transactions, cybercrime and the transfer of large sums of money

 • By : Angus Warren | Bate Chubb & Dickson Incorporated Attorneys, Notaries and Conveyancers
For most property owners, their commercial or residential properties are the most valuable assets that they will acquire.  Given that there has been an exponential increase in cybercrime, and fraud in South Africa, it is wise to ensure that the proceeds of your sale (or the money which you intend to use to acquire a property) are transferred securely.  When transferring large amounts of money ensure that your instruction is communicated personally and in writing. Where you communicate electronically, make sure that the communication is not vulnerable to interception. Email communications are regularly intercepted and the content or attachment is fraudulently altered so as to procure payment to another bank account. Seldom is the money recovered.
The onus is on the person effecting payment to ensure that the account to which funds (which are electronically or otherwise transferred) is correct. Payment to an incorrect account will not extinguish the debt, and a second payment of a large sum of money is a bitter pill to swallow. The other party will be accountable for your loss only in circumstances where they have been found to be negligent.  For example where an attorney has failed to carry out his or her mandate with the due care, skill and diligence expected of a reasonable attorney in those circumstances. Merely relying upon an email instruction, which is vulnerable to interception, may be regarded as negligent.  Many attorneys now make use of secure and encrypted communication which is safer, more reliable.
Some common sense steps that you can take to minimise your risk:-
1) Remember that emails are not safe and are regularly intercepted and altered or may be fraudulently generated. Be cautious and take all reasonable steps to ensure that the source of the communication is reliable, and that account details are verified.
2) When in doubt do not effect payment until you are entirely satisfied that you are doing so safely and securely.
3) Do not respond to electronic communications requesting payment or purporting to change banking details, unless you verify the source and / or changes.
The risks associated with the transfer of funds extend beyond property transactions. Always ensure that you have independently verified the source and the account to which payment is to be made, reliably. Alternatively delay making payment until you are able to do so.