A Morley real estate agent who forged contracts pretending to be prospective buyers for several Perth homes covered up her deception by telling one client a potential buyer had died in a Jakarta bombing last year.
Gayla Currie worked for Century 21 Max Comben in Morley when she faked both contracts of offer and acceptance to give to Perth homeowners, and masqueraded as buyers interested in their properties.
Consumer Protection issued Ms Currie a life ban from the WA real estate industry last month, and said over the course of 11 months Ms Currie distributed 22 faked contracts for homes in Balcatta, Westminster, Morley and Stirling.
It's understood her supervisor never questioned why signatures were written in Ms Currie's handwriting, why letters sent to buyers were returned to the agency, why no deposits were ever received and why no sales were ever settled - despite Ms Currie's assertion there were numerous offers and counter-offers being made on each of her properties.
WAtoday can now reveal two separate homeowners caught up in Ms Currie's practices estimate their losses at around $70,000 and $80,000 each - a far cry from Ms Currie's $1500 fine.
Vanessa Mafrica knew Ms Currie through mutual friends for around 15 years before Ms Currie said she "left" Century 21 in Morley to work for another WA real estate agent.
Ms Mafrica and her husband decided to put their rental property in Balcatta on the market for sale, and Ms Currie took up the listing.
"She told us she was doing home opens on the weekends and showing clients through during the week," she said.
"But our tenant told us she had never seen anyone come or go for an open, and she was never contacted by Gayla about possibly conducting home opens."
Soon, Ms Currie reached out to Ms Mafrica to tell her she had a potential buyer lined up for her Balcatta home.
Ms Currie said a Perth mother had put in an offer on the property, and her finance had been approved.
But soon, the offer fell over because the mother supposedly realised Ms Mafrica's property wasn't "in the catchment for her child's potential school".
However Ms Currie said this was fine, as she had a second "Chinese" buyer lined up.
"So we let the first buyer out of her contract, and decided we'd go ahead with this offer," Ms Mafrica said.
"We let the tenant know we had someone moving in, and she was happy to vacate early so the new owner could move in."
As Ms Mafrica was preparing her home for a new owner, she received what she describes as an "interesting" call from her settlement agent.
"She told us that something didn't seem right with the offer," she said.
Ms Mafrica's settlement agent revealed she had not had any contact from Ms Currie regarding the buyer's finance ("no emails, no calls"), and Ms Mafrica quickly confronted the real estate agent over text message why her settlement agent said no finance had been approved on the home.
"I just spoke to [settlement agent]. She told me finance isn't approved on the house... what the hell is going on?" Ms Mafrica writes.
Ms Currie insisted the finance had been approved, and things were moving ahead.
However, one day prior to the settlement date in January 2016, Ms Currie contacted Ms Mafrica to let her know the "Chinese" buyer had gotten into an accident in Jakarta, Indonesia.
"She said he's walked out of his hotel, and was caught up in a bombing in front of a bank," Ms Mafrica said.
"He was in a coma in hospital, and eventually died."
There had indeed been a bombing in Jakarta that night, but Ms Mafrica's buyer apparently was not listed among the dead as "he had passed away in hospital".
But that wasn't the end. Ms Currie said the family still wanted to go ahead with the sale.
"She was stringing us along, saying his wife still wanted the house. Apparently within their religion, it was something like 'keeping his spirit alive'," Ms Mafrica said.
"This went back and forth for awhile, but then a couple of weeks later, Gayla told me she couldn't handle it all and went into a mental home due to her husband dying and she couldn't handle it all."
In a text to Ms Mafrica, Ms Currie said she had sent flowers to the family and spoke of the man's "widow's" mental state:
"She will die I'm convinced in the next few months... heartbroken and what for[?] Animal terrorist she is a multi, multi millionaire she has 9 properties here [sic]."
After months of deception, Ms Mafrica estimates she lost around $20,000 in rental income due to the lost tenancy, thousands in advertising costs and months of paying two mortgages.
Unfortunately, Ms Mafrica wasn't Ms Currie's only victim.
Saskia Maes owned a home in Morley when she leased with Century 21, and Ms Currie took over the sale of her property in December 2015.
Ms Maes said shortly after Ms Currie took up the listing, she went on holiday.
"I went on holiday with my family to Europe and flew out in December of that year," Ms Maes said.
"While I was there, I received a text from Gayla.
"She said something to the effect of 'you've got a couple of days to get your stuff out of the property' because her buyer wanted to go ahead with the sale.
"Lucky it was towards the end of our holiday, so when we came home, completely jet-lagged, we shoved everything in our home into a shipping container."
Ms Maes used a shipping container company Ms Currie recommended, which cost her just over $1000 to rent.
Shortly after she had frantically moved out of her Morley home, Ms Currie told Ms Maes the buyers finance had, again, fallen through.
Ms Currie went on to create another fictional family, whose daughter was supposedly looking at buying her property.
In a text message to Ms Maes:
"It's a little low [the amount] to start I'm thinking we counter [with another amount] but I can't tell you that either lol".
She went on:
"Remember I know what she can borrow... but that's something I can't tell you lol".
Over the course of another four months and another failed sale, Ms Maes said she was beginning to smell a rat.
At this point, Ms Maes and her husband were under the impression their home was on the verge of sale three times before buyer finance or interest had fallen through.
It was through Ms Maes's detective work and the help of her settlement agent she found it wasn't the first time Ms Currie had been accused of faking contracts.
"I started to pull up the people she mentioned on Facebook or the White Pages. The houses they were supposed to be selling weren't on the market, or they never existed," Ms Maes said.
Ms Maes said she found Ms Currie had actually pulled signatures from old sales, or used the identity of people in her real life as "buyers".
One of the people Ms Currie had used as a fake name actually found out about her scheme, and contacted those she believed had been affected.
Ms Mafrica and Ms Maes both came together with a number of other homeowners who had been duped along the way, and took their complaints to Consumer Protection.
"This whole ordeal consumed us. It nearly made us lose everything. We had two mortgages we had to pay thanks to this elaborate web of lies," Ms Maes said.
"Everything would always fall down at the last moment. That year was hell, and this whole ordeal has set us back around two years.
"She got a slap on the wrist considering how much people lost, and there's been no form of compensation. Nothing, nothing at all."
Ms Mafrica agrees the penalty was not harsh enough.
"She should have a criminal record for what she put people through," she said.
"It's appalling that she can wake up every morning and go about her day. It makes me sick. It's disgusting and it really frustrates me because she's banned in WA.
"What happens if she moves? Can she just start doing this again? So many of us aren't in the position to press charges thanks to what she's done to our finances."
In response to the allegations made against her, Ms Currie said "the Department of Commerce clearly stated the dealings are over and the agency had dealt with all sellers and had been compensated".
Ms Currie refuted claims made by the homeowners, and when asked why a number of contracts didn't go ahead, she said often the deposit wasn't paid in the required time or hadn't been paid at all thus rendering contracts null and void.
She argued home opens were conducted, there was "no need" for Ms Maes to put her belongings into a shipping container.
She did not respond to questions regarding the legitimacy of the buyers listed in the contracts.
Consumer Protection WA said they were at a loss to understand why Ms Currie would do this.
"It is difficult to understand why Ms Currie would do this," Consumer Affairs commissioner David Hillyard said.
"It is only speculation but it may have been to appear to be doing a good job to ensure her clients were happy with her work or it could have been to appear to be doing a good job in the eyes of her employer.
"It is not a common occurrence and it is the first case of its kind that we have seen in WA."
Western Australia's real estate institute REIWA said the case was certainly unusual, and there should be harsh penalties for this kind of conduct.
"This is a rare occurrence so it is hard for us to speculate 'why' she would do this," chief executive officer Neville Pozzi said.
"This is the first time REIWA has heard of a scenario like this, so we have no reason to believe that this is a common issue.
"Certainly penalties for this type of conduct should be strong and harsh and send a clear message."
Both authorities offered similar advice to consumers hoping to protect themselves from this kind of conduct. Consumer Protection WA advised:
"If consumers believe that they are not being told the truth by a sales representative then they should contact the person in charge of the real estate agency.
"The supervisor of staff or the licensee of a real estate agency has a duty to ensure that staff members are complying with every aspect of the law and are not engaging in dishonest conduct.
"We recommend the following course of action for anyone dissatisfied with the standard of conduct of a settlement agent, real estate agent or sales representative:
- Step 1: Contact the settlement agent, real estate agent or sales representative (or the real estate agent in control of the representative) who undertook the work, and discuss your concern with them. This may give them the opportunity to rectify the problem, if possible.
- Step 2: If you remain dissatisfied, contact Consumer Protection through the Advice Line on 1300 304 054 to discuss the matter.
- Step 3: If you wish to lodge a complaint, then this is required to be done online or in writing. Further information about our complaints process, sample letters and contact details is available from our complaints and enquiries pages."