There was yet another report in the media this week of a couple who lost a large sum of money to a relatively new tactic from fraudsters. Sarah and Ritchie Tough from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire lost £45,000 when criminals posing as their solicitors instructed them to pay the deposit for their house purchase into the wrong bank account.
There was a similar report in the middle of last year concerning a couple in Waterloo, Paul and Ann Lupton, who lost £62,000 to a similar scam.
The scam works because of the volume of e-mail correspondence that now takes place between lawyers and their clients. E-mail is a quick and convenient form of communication, but it is, unfortunately, not particularly secure and can be ‘hacked’, or rather ‘hi-jacked’ by criminals. It appears that the fraudsters behind this new scam somehow manage to set-up systems which automatically monitor the thousands of e-mails that move around the internet every day, looking for keywords that might indicate financial transactions taking place. They then try and imitate one of the two parties at the crucial point where money is about to be transferred electronically, and provide false bank details.
It is not uncommon for scammers to pose, as they did in the case of Mr & Mrs Tough, as the victim’s lawyer and tell them that due to one reason or the other, their deposit monies should be paid into a different bank account than the one they already have.
In other cases, criminals can pose as the client by intercepting electronic correspondence and instructing a firm of solicitors to send the money from the sale of their property to a different bank account. This was the case with Mr and & Mrs Lupton.
This is obviously a very worrying trend and a scam that almost anyone can fall victim to, regardless of the security measures they have on their computer systems. In other words, both lawyers and their clients must remain vigilant to these tactics and be particularly suspicious of any email and/or phone calls purportedly from their client or solicitor with last minute changes to their bank details.
Such instructions must be double checked by either attending the office or calling the lawyer/client to confirm that the email did in fact come from them!
For example, here at Arnold Thomson we would never inform you of any change to our bank details by e-mail. We also ask our clients to only provide us with their bank details in writing with the date and their signature included. We have designed forms for this very purpose which must be completed and returned to us. Any ‘last minute’ change of details received via e-mail will not be authorised until we confirm the authenticity with you.
The key point is communication. If there is ever anything you are unsure or uneasy about in terms of transferring or receiving money, you should always speak to the lawyer handling your matter or contact your client for verification.
As we say at Arnold Thomson, better safe than sorry!