Homebuyers and sellers lose millions to conveyancing fraud

Scammers intercept solicitors' emails


Fraudsters have netted more than £10 million in the last year by hacking into the emails of homebuyers and diverting funds.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which operates the Action Fraud reporting hotline, 91 people have fallen victim to conveyancing fraud over the past twelve months.

The scams are getting more frequent, with 16 cases reported during September and October, and are believed to be being carried out by gangs based overseas.

The scammers first hack into the email communications between sellers, buyers, solicitors and estate agents. Then, generally on the day contracts are exchanged, they email the homebuyer, purporting to be their solicitor.

In the email, they're told that the solicitor's bank details have changed, and are asked to pay the money into a different account. The emails look completely genuine - but the money is never seen again.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority says it has been seeing more and more such frauds over the last two years.

"Law firm client accounts are being targeted and solicitors and their clients are suffering disruption and potential loss. It is essential that firms understand the risks and take precautions to avoid falling victim to these attacks," says chief executive Paul Philip.

"This is an issue that is not going away. This is obvious not just from the reports we are receiving direct from law firms and members of the public, but also in our discussions with local law societies."

Action Fraud is warning housebuyers and sellers to avoid discussing their sale over public wifi systems such as those in cafes and stations, as these are far more vulnerable to hacking.

And recovering the money might not be easy. One couple told the Telegraph last year that they lost £50,000 to fraudsters while selling a London flat. When Paul and Anne Lupton replied to an email from their solicitor requesting bank details, the mail was intercepted by crooks.

The fraudsters sent their own bank details instead, and intercepted the money. But it was only after an eight month dispute with the law firm that they were finally reimbursed. Others have failed to get their money back at all.

Action Fraud advises giving your solicitor your bank details in person, on the phone or by post, and telling them that you have no plans to make any changes. And if your solicitor tells you that their details have changed, double-check in the same way.

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