When buying a house you often have to deal with two firms of solicitors, estate agents, and vendors who are as stressed as you and have their own goals that may not dovetail with your own. You’re spending the most money you will ever spend, and you have to rely on a solicitor you may never have met to guide you through a complex and slow-moving process. And now there is the threat of fraud.
The Telegraph has reported several times in recent months about fraudsters apparently duping solicitors, house buyers and vendors into transferring deposit money into scam accounts. It’s a terrifying thought: you could lose your hard-earned deposit money to a filthy scammer. The reported scams involve fraudsters hacking into email accounts and monitoring exchanges between buyers, solicitors and estate agents, and then using the detailed information to con participants into transferring money into the wrong bank accounts.
House buying solicitor email scam: how it works
That’s because the fraudsters are hacking into email accounts and monitoring exchanges between buyers, solicitors and estate agents. This is a very targeted fraud, that is high yield for the thief. They wait until the moment of most tension, and then slip in a spoof email asking the buyer to transfer their deposit to the wrong account. Sometimes they even target solicitors direct – asking them to transfer sale funds to a different account. Because the email chain has been hacked, it is possible for the thieves to provide all the required security details.
As a consequence, the Solicitors Regulation Authority advises against using email in property transactions, but this is painful for clients and solicitors. At the sharp end of a house purchase or sale, you really just want it to be done, and email is a whole lot more efficient than snail mail, and more accurate than the phone. Solicitors should confirm bank details in writing, however. And it always pays to be ultra careful, and check via phone or face to face with your solicitor (your actual solicitor, not ‘someone from the firm’ who could also be a fake, especially over the phone). Follow the house buying tips below and you will be very unlucky get stung. (See also: How to avoid Gmail scams.)
Buying a house? How to avoid solicitor conveyancing email scam
The key to all of this is to confirm everything face to face or over the phone with your solicitor. Meet with your solicitor early in the process – ideally face to face but if not possible then over the phone. Agree the process for payment early in the process, during that conversation. Make sure you know what is going to happen, in what order. Check the details of your solicitor, both business and physical. And get the bank details as early as possible in the process – written down but not via email. If you are ever unsure about any aspect of the money transfer, don’t do it!
Here are our tips for not falling victim to property buying fraud:
- Don’t ever send tens of thousands of pounds to a bank account on the basis of an email. Speak to your solicitor to confirm the details. It is very rare for such details to change – if that happens, speak to your solicitor about it, either face to face or on a phone number you have used before.
- Do send a test amount first and then check over the phone that your solicitor has it. Even if the details haven’t changed this makes sense.
- Agree a process for payment early on. As soon as you appoint a solicitor you should have a chat with them about what you expect from the process, and how you want it to work. Get a hard copy of the bank details then, and store them somewhere safe.
- If you do receive an email asking you to send money to a bank account, get in touch with your solicitor. But don’t use any contact details provided in the email. They could be fake too.
- If in any doubt at all – do nothing and call your solicitor!
Remember, this is a sophisticated high yield scam. The scammer has taken the time to find out information about you, and will be able to answer queries. So don’t trust anything you find in the email. Speak to your solicitor.
(Source: PC Adviser Website 2017)