What you need to know about conveyancing scams

What you need to know about conveyancing scams as the criminal fraternity is getting ever more sophisticated in their methods to trick people out of their money.

The situation isn’t helped by the growing complexity of systems that most firms are using now to streamline their processes and to speed up the availability of information.

It’s a double-edged sword because of the increased sophistication in the ability to break into the communications and the systems themselves to harvest personal details and financial information.

While this can be a very scary scenario to consider, you should know that the majority of firms will have procedures and security processes in place to thwart these efforts. However, there is always the possibility that these criminal organisations will try to break through nevertheless.

Types of conveyancing fraud

One of the most obvious and frequent examples of conveyancing fraud comes in the shape of an email, purporting to be from the conveyancing firm, where it is asking for banking details, or suggesting that the company has changed their banking details and requesting that you make adjustments to your banking transfers to the new accounting information.

Some of this is the fraudsters trying their luck, but most often it is because they have hacked into the systems at the conveyancing firm and taken the contact details, perhaps with information of the property purchase to allow them to refine their fraudulent phishing email to look even more realistic.

Another type of fraud is when the perpetrators scour social media profiles for posts that highlight potential moves, taking the information and sending out a phishing email, again trying to access banking information to take advantage of the large sums involved in transfers.

Protecting yourself from conveyancing fraud

The Law Society has provided a useful guide to helping prevent such fraud, with a PDF that goes through some of steps you can take (in association with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre).

Here is a summary of the advice they give to help protect yourself when buying and selling a home:
    • Law firm’s bank details– don’t rely on emails or other faceless methods of communicating the bank details. Instead, the advice is to obtain the details either in person or over the phone. Then you should ask them to confirm the conversation and the details in a letter to verify the correctness. The advice goes further, suggesting that you might want to set up a clear and secure method of obtaining any changes in this information if it should occur.
    • Check with the law firm– as the advice notes, it’s highly unlikely that the solicitor firm will change their banking details. However, it can happen. If you receive an email suggesting that you update the process with new banking details, you should always contact the solicitor dealing with your purchase and/or sale to verify that this is correct. And, again, ask them to confirm the conversation and the details in writing.
    • Passwords– It is a tedious chore, but a very necessary one, to create strong and secure passwords for all your online activity. Avoid using pet names, specific dates or something else meaningful to you, as this can be easily broken into. The authorities recommend string together three random words, ideally adding numerics and allowable symbols if possible.
    • Anti-virus software– Always ensure your devices are fully protected by the latest anti-virus software. As the authorities point out, the majority of conveyancing fraud relies on email accounts being compromised in some way, so you should ensure you are as protected as you can be.
    • Social media– As already mentioned, fraudsters will be interested in your plans if they come across any posts indicating that you are planning on buying a home, since this means that you are likely to be entering into a large transfer of money in the near future.
    • Public wi-fi– avoid using unprotected wi-fi access when dealing with your conveyancer as the information is then available for any fraudster who might hack into the wi-fi and be subsequently monitoring the electronic traffic that is sent across it.

The advice further suggests transferring a small amount if you are making a payment to an account for the first time. Once that has been completed, contact the recipient using the verified contact details to confirm that the monetary transfer has been successfully completed.

One final piece of advice is not to transfer any money until you have been able to satisfy your concerns that all is well.

Worries about conveyancing fraud

This all sounds very worrying and it is understandable if you have any doubts as to whether you have been a victim of conveyancing fraud.

If you are at all concerned, the Law Society, SRA, NCA and the National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre advise taking the following steps:
    • Contact your bank– as soon as you think you are a victim of conveyancing fraud, you should contact your bank to give them the details, requesting them to contact the bank of the recipient’s account so that a freeze can be put on the transfer.
    • Contact Action Fraud– contact the authorities at Action Fraud via their website or call them on 0300 123 2040.
    • Alert your solicitor– the solicitor’s firm may have been targeted and that means other clients may be at risk, too. They can take suitable action to verify and prevent.


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