Solicitor hands phone scammers £734,000 of clients' money

D0G6PE Woman verifies account balance on smartphone with mobile banking application.  mobile banking phone Mobile; Phone; Bankin
D0G6PE Woman verifies account balance on smartphone with mobile banking application. mobile banking phone Mobile; Phone; Bankin

A Guildford solicitor has been tricked into giving fraudsters £734,000 of her clients' money in the latest case of so-called 'vishing' fraud.

Karen Mackie, a sole practitioner, received a phone call in April from a woman claiming to represent her bank, NatWest. The woman told Ms Mackie that one of her accounts, containing money held for her clients, had been compromised, and that the money needed to be moved somewhere more secure.

Ms Mackie hung up the phone, called the helpline number on her debit card, and was told that the problem was genuine. She then transferred the money in £99,000 chunks.

But the call was a fraud. When Ms Mackie hung up the phone the first time, the caller stayed on the line. While she thought she was speaking to her bank, she was actually talking to one of the scammers.

By the time Ms Mackie became suspicious, more than £500,000 had been withdrawn by the crooks.

And, Ms Mackie tells the BBC, her professional indemnity insurers have refused to pay out on the grounds that she had effectively condoned the theft. She has also been suspended by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), meaning she cannot practise law.

Her clients have been refunded through the Solicitors Compensation Scheme.

But Ms Mackie is by no means the first solicitor to fall for such a scam. At a conference earlier this year, Steve Arundale, head of professional services for commercial banking at NatWest, said that solicitors' losses through vishing trebled last year.

"Fraudsters know they have quite a lot of cash, and you deal with lots of different people working to tight deadlines," he said.

The SRA says it currently receives three to four phone calls a week from solicitors saying that they've been targeted by these scams. Late last year, it says, vishing fraudsters managed to steal £2 million from the client accounts of four solicitors' firms.

Many of these calls are made on Friday afternoons, when solicitors are particularly busy and their accounts stuffed full of clients' money.

"We are very concerned about this continuing activity. The fraudsters are highly sophisticated in their approach and their script makes them sound as though they are genuinely who they say they are," says Robert Loughlin, the SRA's executive director of operations and quality.

"We are aware of firms of all sizes receiving calls, this isn't something that affects just one sector of the profession. All firms should ensure that their own internal systems for guarding against scams are up-to-date and that staff know how to implement them."

Private individuals, too, are vulnerable to vishing fraud. But it's important to remember that banks will never ask you to transfer or hand over sums of money in this way.

If you do get a call that you think might be genuine, hang up and call back on a number you know to be genuine - but wait ten minutes before you do, so that the phone connection will definitely have been broken. Even better, use a different phone.

Read more on AOL Money:

Firm scammed out of £1 million by bogus bank call

Banks 'refusing to compensate vishing victims'

How to spot an email scam - before you click on it

Google Cracks Down on Phishing With New Chrome Extension
Google Cracks Down on Phishing With New Chrome Extension