Homebuyers are being conned into handing over thousands of pounds to fraudsters posing as their solicitor in a fast-growing scam, it has emerged.
This type of crime is known as mandate fraud and has two elements: hacking and scamming.
Fraudsters start by tracking emails between solicitors and homebuyers to see if there is any mention of payment, looking out for signs of when money is likely to move. They could be hacking either or both of the email accounts.
When it looks like the homebuyer is ready to hand over the deposit, the hacker steps in. They’ll email the homebuyer posing as the solicitor, claiming that the firm’s bank details have changed and giving them details of a new bank account to send payments to. Naturally the buyer agrees, sends the money along and it lands straight in the scammer’s account.
The technology that fraudsters use is so sophisticated that it’s often very difficult to differentiate between the real company email and the imposter.
People who have online or postal subscriptions and standing orders are also vulnerable, so don't leave records of bills and direct debits lying around.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority told the BBC that it is seeing at least one case of this kind every week at the moment, which has caused a number of property sales to collapse entirely.
How to avoid it
There are a few things you can do protect yourself from this type of crime, according to the experts at Action Fraud:
- Call the person or company to ensure you are dealing with them directly.
- Don’t transfer your money all at once. If you are transferring large sums of money, transfer a small amount first such as £1 and call the recipient to make sure it has cleared.
- Remember fraudsters can easily spoof the email address to make them appear legitimate, so be wary of threatening or urgent language.
- Don’t believe everything you see; just because an email appears to come from a trusted source, it doesn’t mean that it is legitimate.
Steve Proffitt, Deputy Head of Action Fraud said:
"When sending important emails which include personal and financial information, always think about the type of internet network that you’re using and ensure that it is a secure network. If you receive an email which tells you that a person or company’s bank details have changed, you must phone to verify it before making any financial transactions. Preferably talk to the solicitor whose voice you recognise to check the change of bank details."
If you’ve been a victim of fraud, tell your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.
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