Warning: conveyancing scam could cost you £1,000s

5 min read
Update: increasing sophistication in conveyancing scams related to email hacking, please view this actual conveyancing scam email (received 9 October 2018)

A woman lost almost £80,000 in a conveyancing scam when fraudsters diverted her completion monies to their own account.

Some weeks before, the Law Society of Northern Ireland warned conveyancing firms in the province that hackers were making attacks on their IT systems. It advised the firms to review their email and internet security software and procedures.

Amanda Jackson of County Down received an authentic email from her solicitors with the bank details for the transfer of £76,959 to complete her house purchase. She then received a subsequent email which appeared to be from the same solicitors, advising that the previous bank details were incorrect, and giving alternative account details.

Ms Jackson went to her bank personally to instruct the transfer of money, sensing that something was not right. Some days later she was contacted by her solicitors saying they had still not received the money, and she then realised that she had been duped by felons using a vicious conveyancing scam. The money has not yet been recovered and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are continuing to investigate the matter.

Online conveyancing fraud - particularly concerning completion monies - is becoming increasingly common.

If you have any concerns, please call our experts on 0333 344 3234 or drop us a line at help@samconveyancing.co.uk

*Fixed Fee – No Sale No Fee – On all Mortgage Lender Panels

How do fraudsters gain access to a firm's email communications?

Cyber attacks are increasing in sophistication and the exact method used to carry out this crime is still a matter of debate. One expert in cyber attacks on business, speaking in press reports about the crime, said that it was likely that fraudsters had targeted the firm involved "for weeks" and had either full access to the firm's mail server or one of the computers in the their office via, for example, the opening of a fake attachment.

The potential for being hacked like this is high and it is now every solicitors' firms responsibility to make sure that they take every form of precautionary measure to protect themselves from 'online attack' to both protect themselves and their clients. The reality however is that because an online attack cannot be seen, the threat is felt to be less real. Ignoring the threat leaves the conveyancing practice exposed to claims. On online attack should be viewed as real an attack as someone breaking in the front door; you should not only check the front door is locked at night, but also ensure your online systems are equally protected and safe.

Which payments are at greatest risk?

The conveyancing process is a prime target for this kind of conveyancing scam with such large sums of money being transferred from clients, mortgage lenders and solicitors. The greatest areas for risk will be when the client sends in their completion monies on a purchase (deposit and balance to complete) and the release of the sale proceeds.

Update: 9 October 2018 - Potential conveyancing scam through email impersonation (law firm's email client hacked)

We've received an actual email which resulted from a scammer hacking into the conveyancing firm's email systems. Printed below, what is particularly worrying is the growing level of sophistication in terms of the addresses and standard of English (although a trained eye might still have suspicions).

The message is clear: if you're not expecting an email from your solicitor you should always be suspicious and you should never follow a direction to pay over money to a different account or using a different method before you've actually spoken to your solicitor by telephone.

We've removed any identifying information from the following email; however please accept on trust that the 'from' address was the actual solicitor's email address and the 'reply-to' address was a close variant:

Date: 8 October
Subject: [actual correct conveyancing address of the client that the email was sent to]
Reply-To: solicitorsolicitorfirm@send.com

I confirm that the Property that you are purchasing has got good and marketable title and there are no adverse conditions affecting it.

You are required to make payment of outstanding funds of purchase price for completion to occur, what date do you intend to make payment, do you have funds in place ? what date is suitable for completion to take place, i will advise completion should take place before the end of next business week, let me know so i can forward [solicitor firm's name] client care account for receiving funds.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

[actual solicitor's name in the case]

What can I do to guard myself against this type of fraud?

Andrew Boast, Co-founder of SAM Conveyancing, advised:

"You should never make a transfer of funds if you receive an unusual email or phone call informing you that your solicitor's banking details have changed. You should always double check directly with your solicitor by phone before making any money transfer to your solicitors. A verbal confirmation of the sort code and account number will rule out the chances of a 3rd party replacing the correct bank details with fraudulent details. This is something we tell all our clients.

"From the conveyancing solicitors' perspective, they should put in place vigilant systems to protect their clients and have regular meetings with their staff to inform them of the potential risks. Regular training, password changes, strict internal admin rights to the company servers limited to key members of staff and a designated manager responsible for protecting against cyber attack, will aid in reducing the threat of cyber attack."

Need further advice? Call us on 0333 344 3234 or email help@samconveyancing.co.uk

*Fixed Fee – No Sale No Fee – On all Mortgage Lender Panels

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