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Conveyancing Scams: What to Watch Out For

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In recent years a particularly nasty scam has cropped up. It has on some occasions brought financial disaster for unwitting people who are in the process of purchasing a property, with some even losing hundreds of thousands of pounds to fraudsters. The scam is a type of ‘Friday Afternoon Fraud’, more specifically known as Deposit Redirection Fraud – and it is of considerable concern to lawyers and their clients.

How does the scam work?

As the name ‘Deposit Redirection Fraud’ suggests, the scam involves fraudsters leading the client into transferring the funds for the deposit to the bank account of a complete stranger. This is done by hacking into the emails of either the client or the lawyer, and intercepting communication between them. Using the same email address as the trusted conveyancer, the fraudsters will contact the client saying that the bank details have changed last minute and request that the funds for the deposit are directed to a different account instead.

An article published by the Guardian in January 2017 features the case of charity worker Howard Mollett, who became victim to a deposit redirection scam of this type when purchasing a property. Howard consequently lost £67,000 in life savings in the catastrophe, and it is unclear whether the funds can ever be recovered.

In 2015, the Telegraph reported a similar situation where Kate Blakely and Marco Faes were defrauded of £299,000 when buying a house together. Shortly before the sale was due to complete, the couple received an email that appeared to be their conveyancer telling them their Lloyds Bank account was being audited, and to transfer the funds to a Natwest account instead. Concerned, the couple replied asking to confirm their client ID number. The fraudsters responded with another email confirming this number, and, satisfied that the request was genuine, the couple transferred the money to the fraudsters.

Some scams are easily spotted. At some point, most of us have received some variation of the email from a “Nigerian prince” offering up part of an enormous inheritance in exchange for a “small fee” – and most of us would never fall for such a rudimentary scam. However, the sophistication of the hackers involved in conveyancing fraud is far higher, and when they gain access to private emails they can use the information within to appear genuine. Emails can be sent from the very same address as your solicitor, making the fraudulent ones almost impossible to identify on a superficial level.

Clearly, scams of this nature cause devastation for those who are caught out. So what can you do to prevent yourself from falling victim to the fraudsters?

How to protect yourself

It’s essential to be vigilant in all matters concerning online payments. If you receive an email asking you to pay an account that you have not paid before, or telling you the details have changed, it’s a good idea to call and confirm that the details are legitimate before transferring a large amount of money – even if the email appears to be genuine.

It is incredibly rare that the payment details will change over the course of a transaction. And if it does, your solicitor will not advise you of this via email.

Any form of correspondence that seems suspicious or unusual must be treated with extreme caution: fraudsters get more sophisticated as time goes on, and you should never automatically assume that something is genuine. If you ever receive an email from your conveyancer that you are not sure about, get in touch via the phone straight away.

How Bird & Co helps to protect you

Bird & Co. Solicitors LLP advise all clients to exercise care with email communications and ensure that appropriate security protections are in place.

Please note that our Client Account details are not scheduled to change from the details given in our Terms of Business and you should refer to those to make payment.

If you are unsure, check with your case handler by telephone using our main phone number 01476 591711, and do not email. You can also use the SafeMove Scheme to independently verify our details.

If you receive an email purporting to be from us suggesting that you use a different account do not action the request, and contact us immediately by phone to let us know.

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