A recent news article highlighted the sobering story of charity worker Howard Mollett – the victim of ‘Friday afternoon fraud’, an email scam that is the No 1 cybercrime in the legal sector. Howard had £67,000 of life savings stolen after fraudsters hacked into emails sent between him and his conveyancing solicitor. You can view the article here.
This case will send a shiver down the spine of anyone who is in the process of buying a home, or planning to do so, and comes hard on the heels of a warning from the solicitors’ watchdog that “conveyancing theft” involving hacked emails is now the most common cybercrime in legal circles.
Computer hackers are currently targeting homebuyers nationwide by monitoring emails between solicitors and their clients, searching for anywhere where cash transactions are being discussed. The fraudsters try to discover when the transaction will take place and then send the buyer an email, purporting to be from their solicitor, with details of another account the money needs to be paid in to.
Many people don’t realise that this scam is going on until it’s too late, which is why the PGM conveyancing team ensure that all clients are made aware and can be extra vigilant.
There are ways you can protect yourself against the potential threat of fraudulent activity.
If you receive an email requesting extra information, or requesting bank account information, or asking you to transfer money, make sure you have a second line of communication with your solicitor and/or estate agent. You should always get hold of them on the telephone to check that the details you have received are correct.
Double check the ‘sent from’ email address – often this will be incorrect, even if everything else looks right. Check that the part after @ matches the solicitor’s website address, or check previous emails from the firm. However, this cannot be depended on as scammers develop new ways to hack email accounts.
It has been suggested by This is Money that you should always use a secure wireless connection and not somewhere like an internet cafe or public restaurant, when checking important emails and transferring large amounts of money.
PGM Solicitors encourage clients to ring up and check if they are uncertain about any transactions.
Make it clear to your solicitor at the start of the process that you have no intention of changing your bank account details. Instruct them to ignore any requests to do so unless they are given by you in person.
When you first employ a conveyancing solicitor, ask that they send you their bank details in the post. If you do receive a request to change the firm’s bank account details part way through the process, double check the information. Do not follow instructions sent in an email, even if it looks like it has come from a legitimate email address. Call the firm and ask for confirmation.
Even if the email from them doesn’t mention details changing, it’s still a good thing to double check the digits before transferring such a large amount of money. Everyone is keen to finish the conveyancing process, so it’s understandable that people are taking the steps they know will speed up the process. However, for most people this is the largest amount of money they will ever spend, so caution is strongly advised.
For further advice, please do contact our specialist team on 01792 468684.