As we tend to see in such cases, this was a pretty unsophisticated attempt at fraud that was unfortunately successful for the fraudsters. It involved the criminals intercepting the victim’s email exchange with his solicitors, them impersonating the firm and asking the client to send the monies to a different bank account where it was soon siphoned off. It all seems so simple and was devastatingly easy to achieve.
Those of you who have followed the work of the Conveyancing Association (CA) for some time will know that combating fraud has been a significant part of our work. We have put in place protocols and introduced our own cyber safe scheme in order to help conveyancing firms combat such attempts. These initiatives help to educate firms and ensure that the client is clear about the threats that exist and how they should react should they receive communications about banking details and money transfers.
Unfortunately, not all firms are signed up to these protocols and schemes – although I should point that many CA members are – and thus we are still hearing about cases where clients are losing significant sums of money. The major point to get over, however, is the unsophisticated nature of such attempts. These tend to be phishing scams where fraudsters have got wind that a transaction is taking place, have managed to hack emails and are posing as the conveyancing firm. However, even if they are successful at all of those, it’s still possible to ensure that such a fraud never ends up with the money in their hands.
We believe that mortgage advisers can play a big role here. As a trusted source of information for clients, pointing out the risks that exist when sending money for deposits and so forth, should go a long way to combating these attempts. Also, it’s best for clients not to shout about this on social media – a fertile ground for fraudsters.
For example, I’ve just searched on Twitter for the words, ‘house offer accepted’, and it’s brought back a number of people who could easily fall victim to the preying eyes of fraudsters. There’s also a huge number of people who converse with their conveyancer via Twitter or Facebook where these exchanges are visible to all and sundry. These clients are putting themselves at a much greater risk and should be warned about this. Regularly changing an email account password would also be advisable.
Finally, let’s consider the issue of sending the money to the conveyancer. Make sure that your client sends only the minimum amount at first and then checks the solicitor has received it – far better to lose £1 to the fraudster than £67,000 or more. And make sure they’re aware at the start what the firm’s account details are and that they will never change, regardless of any other communications they might receive. If in doubt, the client should phone the firm or send a token amount to check it’s got where it’s supposed to.
Fraud is a huge blight on our market, and given the time advisers spend with their clients it makes perfect sense to keep them informed of the risks. At the CA we are doing all we can to improve the processes of conveyancing firms and to ensure they are working at their top of their game in terms of combating fraud – it does however need the entire market to chip in and while we may not be able to stop the attempts, we can increasingly stop the ‘successes’.