Shock surge in fraud, as criminals target house buyers

What are the fraudsters up to, and how can you protect yourself?

hacker with laptop

The beginning of this year has seen a huge spike in fraud - which is up 20% overall. However, the experts say that the rise in third party mortgage fraud (where ID theft is used to commit mortgage fraud) worries them particularly.

Figures from Experian show that third party mortgage fraud has risen from 4% of all fraud to 6%. Nick Mothershaw, fraud expert from Experian, commented: "The increase is worrying. This is because third party mortgage fraud is very complex and not as easy to commit on a large scale as fraud related to other financial products, such as current accounts, can be. Because of the values involved, the impact on people's lives can be devastating."

"In many cases, fraudsters have either hacked databases or intercepted emails between individuals and their solicitors." Criminals then put together emails that look as though they come from the solicitor, saying that the buyer needs to send money to a new bank account. The bank account, of course, is owned by the fraudsters, who disappear with the money. The sums involved are horrifying, and people have lost £300,000 or more to the fraudsters - with no hope of ever getting it back.

What can you do?

The scale of the problem has become so large that the Conveyancing Association has launched a Cyber Safe Scheme, so that when anyone contacts a lawyer to begin the process of buying a house, they should be given information to help them stay safe. If your lawyer doesn't offer up this information, you should ask for it.

They should explain that criminals have been targeting email accounts, and sending messages posing as lawyers. They should also outline how these fraudsters operate, so buyers are on their guard.

Your solicitor should also hand over a hard copy of their bank details - either in person or by post - so that if you are ever sent an email asking for money to be put into an account, you can check it against the hard copy. If it's different, you should phone your solicitor or visit them in person to confirm.

Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association, adds: "As a further preventative measure, we would also urge customers – when first sending money – to send the smallest amount possible and then check with the law firm so they can be confident the money is going to the right place."

Ideally, any payments should be made in person, or during a phone conversation with a solicitor you have met.

She also recommends that people avoid updating social media about a house sale or purchase, as criminals could use this to target them - and the experts suggest not being explicit about the contents of any email in the subject line - as fraudsters can easily scan subjects for the word 'payment', 'balance' or 'deposit'.

It's also worth checking that your solicitor's website is secure (in which case it will start https) and have a padlock on the left hand side of the browser.

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Victims of scams and fraud

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