Law Society release home buying fraud warning for consumers

Home buyers are being warned about a spike in scams which have seen victims defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Law Society of England and Wales has joined forces with the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), which is housed within the National Crime Agency, and Action Fraud to issue flyers warning of the risk of payment diversion fraud.

Criminals are actively targeting property purchases, with the aim of tricking people into transferring over their house deposit and/or the balance of purchase monies to them.

The frauds almost always involve the criminals pretending to be the victim’s lawyer to con them into diverting their payment to an account the crooks control.

“We are urging our members to share these flyers with their clients in order to help protect them from these highly-sophisticated and cruel schemes,”

said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances. Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals.”

Stories of house buyers scammed into handing over significant funds are all too frequent. In one case the home buyer sent £640,000 to a fraudster when emails between the buyer and their solicitor had been intercepted by criminals, who were able to collect all the information relating to the house purchase.

They then used a spoofed email account (made to look like that of the solicitor) to request payment. Payment details were provided on headed solicitors paper via the spoofed email, and the amount requested was exactly what the buyer had expected to pay.

The victim was later advised by the genuine solicitor that these payments had not been requested. Most of the money was never recovered, all-but wiping out the victim’s equity and savings, and leading to the collapse of their purchase.

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority provide their own Scam Alert consumer service which saw a huge spike in the first half of 2021 according to Lindsay Petzer, Key Relationship Manager at risk mitigation experts Lawyer Checker.

“Email modification fraud is a common method fraudsters use to try and intercept confidential information and funds. And impersonation of a genuine person or firm is a common theme across most cyber fraud as identified by the 147% rise in scam alerts in the first three months of 2021 when compared to the same period in 2020.”

I. Stephanie Boyce added:

“Buyers should be extremely vigilant if there appears to be any change of payment details, and always double-check by calling their lawyer before they transfer their money, as emails can be intercepted or diverted,”

Jon Shilland, fraud threat lead at the NECC, said:

“Payment diversion fraud is increasing and it is vital to be alive to the threat as criminals are targeting home-buyers due to the scale of the transactions.

“Whenever a client is making a payment to their solicitor for a house purchase, they should be highly suspicious of any change in account details or new instructions. Remind them to always check with a trusted known contact, and if they have any doubt not to transfer the money.”

Today's Conveyancer