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conveyancing fraud header

Conveyancing fraud: what to know and how to protect yourself

Recently The Guardian revealed the extent and severity of a growing area of online fraud surrounding the conveyancing process. A recent story focused on a charity worker who had £67,000 of his life savings stolen when emails between him and his solicitor were hacked.

This led to the worker borrowing a significant amount of money from his father and sister in order to make sure the property sale went through and has subsequently led to a legal battle to try to obtain compensation and recuperate lost funds. It is a story that has shocked many due to the amount of money lost but it is something that becoming more common as the solicitor’s watchdog has warned.

Conveyancing theft involving the hacking of emails between client and solicitor is now the most common cybercrime in the legal industry. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has given this type of theft the name of ‘Friday Afternoon Fraud’ reflecting the fact that most property sale completions take place on a Friday.

It has been difficult to regain funds for many that have suffered this kind of scam leading to calls to improve the options surrounding this and help to educate/alert the public to this type of fraud. If you are currently buying or selling a house, dealing with a solicitor or using email as the main form of communication with any sort of tradesperson you will be paying, you should stay vigilant to this kind of fraud.

conveyancing fraud content

Here are some things you need to know in order to try to protect yourself:

  • These sorts of scams usually see the fraudster hacking a genuine email address and/or email correspondence thread from your solicitor (or any other trades/businessperson) to make the deception seem less suspicious
  • Usually around the time when payment is anticipated, the hacker will send you a payment request for the amount you are expecting to pay. This will be accompanied by the account number and sort code of the hacker’s bank.
  • As a result it can be difficult to tell if the email or invoice you receive is genuinely from your solicitor or not.
  • If you receive one of these emails from your solicitor and you suspect something is wrong – particularly if the bank details have suddenly changed – you should get in touch with your solicitor by phone as soon as possible. Check that they have asked for your money through the email you received by providing them with the time, date and email address used to contact you. Also, check that the bank details they have provided to you are the correct ones.
  • For very large amounts of money for a house deposit or legal fees, it is worth transferring only a small amount across first, especially if you are suspicious. After transferring that first small amount, contact your solicitor to check it has reached the right person and bank account before transferring the remaining funds across.
  • Be aware that it can be difficult in many cases to recuperate funds from banks as the accounts used by scammers are usually cleared out as soon as the money arrives in the account. This usually happens before anyone suspects anything is wrong and before the bank is notified of the crime.
  • If you have been a victim of this sort of fraud, contact your local police to report the crime. You should also get in contact with your bank and the provider of the bank account you transferred money to in order to see if there is any way to receive a reimbursement of funds. If it is a situation which is becoming difficult to deal with, consider approaching a solicitor who deals with this type of online fraud.

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