Cybercrime and how to prevent it during property transactions
We often hear about bank card details and personal data being stolen but there is an increasing threat to property owners and property transactions.
Here are a few things to consider.
The most common security threat to property transactions is cybercrime. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has stated that in 2016 £9.4million of client money was reported as lost to cybercrime, increasing to £10.7million in 2017.
An example of this is when your property solicitor emails you their firm’s bank account details to send your exchange deposit or completion monies to. Someone then intercepts that email and changes the bank details to the fraudster’s bank account details. The email still looks like your solicitor’s email; it’s just the information in the email that has changed. You then find that you have sent your hard earned savings to an unknown account and your money has disappeared.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority states that email modification fraud accounts for more than 70% of all frauds reported to them!
Another example is when you receive an email from a fraudster impersonating your solicitor or claiming they work for your solicitor’s firm but actually they have no connection to your solicitor at all. Additionally, this could also include phone calls or letters impersonating your solicitor. Again the correspondence states the bank account details that you are to send your deposit or completion monies to. You trust the information is correct and then end up sending the money for your new home or investment property to a fraudster.
These types of frauds are often referred to as ‘Friday Afternoon Fraud’ as fraudsters target the high volume of transactions taking place on a Friday. Worryingly, more and more such successful frauds are being reported.
This is becoming an increasing problem and fraudsters are changing their tactics all the time. All solicitors should be aware of the risks of cyber-fraud and have procedures in place to mitigate the risk for their clients. As the fraudsters continue to change their tactics, the procedures of solicitors must also evolve.
So what can you do to protect yourself while working with your solicitor against this threat? Here are a few things:
1. Not only must your solicitor be vigilant but you must be, too. Check the bank account details with your solicitor by phone before making any payments. The old saying goes – better to be safe than sorry.
2. Check carefully! Things to look out for are whether the email address on the email is the same as your solicitor’s normal email address (often fake emails are sent from Gmail, Yahoo or other similar accounts) or whether the phone number that is calling you is the same as the normal number your solicitor calls from. Or is the letter you have received in the same format as your solicitor’s normal letters? If something isn’t right call your solicitor back on their normal number and check everything before transferring any money.
3. Make sure your system and anti-virus software are up to date on your device. This includes your mobile devices.
The more awareness there is of the risk of cybercrime and the steps that can be taken to protect against it, the more likely it is that fewer people will be affected.
Rachael Bewick, Residential Property Solicitor, Osbornes Law.
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