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Keep your guard up during the end-of-year wind-down – Rudolf

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  • 04/12/2023
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Keep your guard up during the end-of-year wind-down – Rudolf
Prior to the Autumn Statement, I thought there might be a very good chance my next piece for Mortgage Solutions would be reflecting on some specific changes to stamp duty that would clearly be of interest to many housing market stakeholders, namely advisers, lenders, conveyancers, and the like, and which might pre-empt a noticeable pick-up for purchase activity in particular.

However, in lieu of any such ‘big ticket’ items to discuss – although there was of course the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill announced previously in the King’s Speech – I wanted to instead focus on what is likely to be coming up over the next month or so, namely pre-Christmas completions, but also the constant threat of fraud and the impact it can have right across the board. 

Clearly, we are in that period now where many people are trying to get house purchases over the line in order to be in their new homes before the festive season begins. Twas ever thus, but what we don’t want to do is let our guard down or lose our vigilance simply because people want to get things done, and done quickly, and they are excited about a pre-Christmas moving-in date.  

  

Being secure 

You may well have read about a ‘cyber incident’ just recently which impacted a legal sector specialist infrastructure service provider, and subsequently impacted the work of a number of conveyancing firms who use their services. 

Such attacks have nothing to do with the time of year, but it should provide a stark reminder that every single business involved in the house buying and selling process has a potential target on their back. Even if you are not responsible for handling the large sums of money involved, you can be both targeted for the data you hold, and you can be ‘used’ in order to get to those who do hold the purse strings. 

Conveyancers are clearly in the firing line when it comes to this, and the CA has a full Cyber Fraud and Fraud Protocol document which outlines the many types of fraudulent activity they might be subject to, how to spot it, how to stop it, and how to ensure the firm itself, and their clients, do not end up on the wrong end of this activity. 

Some of the protocol is conveyancer-focused, but a lot isn’t. 

I would urge any adviser business owner to download it from our website, and to run through it to make sure they are up to date with the threats. It could be vishing, or malware, or phishing, or smishing, or it could be cyber security threats; being aware of what you might be subject to is the first line of your defence. 

  

Protect clients 

The other point to make is around the protection we can all provide to our clients – after all, your client eventually becomes the conveyancer’s client. If they are fully informed and educated on what could happen, then it will ensure they are robust in terms of their data, their email, their security and their funds.

One key ‘gateway’ for fraudsters is through the information consumers make public via social media and the like. Carry out a quick search on Twitter/X right now and I guarantee you’ll be able to find people talking about ‘being in by Christmas’ or ‘hoping to spend Christmas in the new home’. 

This might seem like the sharing of low-level details, but we all know that criminals can utilise this information to target email accounts, and from there they can look at which conveyancer they might be using, and subsequently they can pretend to be that firm and potentially get the client to move money to their account.  

It sounds fanciful, but it happens a lot, and it has also been successful.  

  

Practising vigiliance 

The closer consumers get to completion, the greater the chance of them ‘giving the game away’ in terms of what they’re about to do. They might even contact their conveyancer by social media, which again gives further information to the fraudsters.  

We are talking about potentially huge sums of money here, and nobody is going to have a great Christmas if they are duped into sending their deposit to a criminal, rather than a conveyancer. 

We have the opportunity to help prevent anything like this happening, and we shouldn’t be afraid to spell out the potential risks, what they might be subject to, how a threat might look, and what to be deeply suspicious of.  

The ‘conveyancer’ writing to the client to tell them to send money to a different bank account to the original one has been a common source of fraud. It is very basic, and all conveyancers now tell clients they will never change their bank account details and if they receive a communication saying they have, then not to act on it.  

However, this method does continue to work, and particularly if clients are new to buying a home, or in some way, vulnerable, then there is likely to be a greater chance of this working.  

Overall, we all need to be on our guard permanently, and we all need to keep telling clients to do the same.  

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