Cybercrime is on the rise and the property market is a target for fraudsters. It is important to be vigilant, says Jo Morgan, Associate and Chartered Legal Executive in Coodes Solicitors’ Residential Property team.
“A property, however large or small, is most people’s biggest asset and moving house could well involve the biggest transfer of money you ever make. It is important to consider where and how this money is transferred.
“Online or internet contact and banking are now mainstream: according to travel statistics more than half of us will book a holiday abroad online and most people now do our banking online. At Coodes we welcome correspondence by email from property clients. With 75% of people owning smartphones, sending an email can be more practical than picking up the phone throughout the day.
“However, the past year has seen a worrying increase in cybercrime directly targeting solicitors and their clients. A recent case that made the news involved emails between a seller and his solicitor being hacked, resulting in £340,000 being transferred to the fraudsters account. The criminals had intercepted the emails containing financial information and emailed the solicitor from the same email account with new bank account details. Proceeds of sale were then transferred into the rogue account and never arrived with the clients.
“These scams have acquired their own terminology. Phishing is a method of acquiring sensitive information, such as bank details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. Spear Phishing involves an email appearing to be from a known source, which isn’t. The term Whaling is used when Phishing is directed at senior executives and high profile targets.
“Earlier this year, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued 26 reports of phoney solicitors. Fraudsters are posing as law firms, representing a seller and if they are successful they can disappear alongside the buyer’s monies.
“As solicitors we are responsible for due diligence including safeguarding clients’ funds and it has been made clear from the SRA that firms should ensure their internal systems for guarding against scams are up-to-date and staff know how to implement them.
“At Coodes we have procedures in place to check the identity of everyone we deal with and crucially the bank accounts for the solicitors to whom monies are transferred. One of the most up to date methods used to combat fraudsters is a search through Lawyer Checker. This is a service that checks the details and history of a seller’s conveyancer, providing a report to warn of the possibility of the conveyancer being bogus.
“It is important solicitors and clients work together to protect each other from these scams. Awareness is key. Think before sending an email with sensitive information, including account numbers and sort codes. Consider encrypted emails or alternative methods of communication. Talk to your solicitor or meet them face to face and ensure you are comfortable with where your money is going.”
For further advice and assistance on buying or selling a property, contact Jo Morgan at Coodes by emailing Jo.Morgan@coodes.co.uk or calling 01726 874727.