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Fake conveyancers diverting purchase funds into fraudsters’ wallets

Buyers are being warned about scams conning people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Law Society of England and Wales has joined forces with the National Economic Crime Centre and Action Fraud to warn about payment diversion fraud.

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

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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” says Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce.

One house buyer was scammed into handing over £640,000. 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.

“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” adds Boyce.

Jon Shilland, fraud threat lead at the NECC, comments: “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.”

  • Rob Hailstone

    Jon Shilland: “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.”

    Not only are emails being intercepted, but scammers are imitating the email addresses of the law firms and telling the client that their (the law firms) bank account details have altered. Some clients then send their money to the wrong account. The majority of law firms have had notices plastered all over their emails and letterheads etc for some time stating that their bank account details will not change throughout the course of the transaction. My understanding is that this action has stopped an awful lot of money getting into the wrong hands. More often than no thought, it is the client’s email that is hacked, and not the law firms.

    It would be helpful if estate agents also pointed out that if their buyers or sellers receive an email telling them that their law firms bank account details have changed, it is likely to be incorrect, and is possibly coming from a fraudster after their hard-earned money. Why can’t estate agents also be asked to share the flyers?

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    I (estate agent) recently had an experience with this where scammers modified mine and a colleagues (mortgage adviser) email addresses and someone transferred £100k as a 'reservation fee'. We wasn't even marketing the property, the buyer was the tenant who we contacted for access and we simply valued it a number of months previous. The scammers pretended to be me over the course of a few months convincing them that 'I' was looking after the solicitors for them. Truly devastating for the buyer but even more frustrating that this could have been easily prevented if they had at some point picked up the phone and called me.

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