How can you protect yourself against conveyancing scams?

Mon 11 Jan 2016 by Cordelia O

Written by Cordelia O

Conveyancing Scams are on the rise

As you may have read in various newspapers, scams involving large amounts of money during the conveyancing process are something many people need to be thinking about. If you are about to exchange and complete your property purchase or sale, there is a chance that your communication with your solicitor and estate agent will be intercepted.

More and more people are reporting issues with money going missing at this critical stage of the conveyancing process.

What is actually happening?

This is how the conveyancing scam works. Individuals will mine data in order to find anything relating to a property purchase or sale, and jump into the conversation at the point of completion, or just before. An email will be sent, looking like it's from the solicitor, asking you to pay the full amount into an alternative bank account. Once you have made this payment, you might not even realise it's gone to the wrong place until you make contact again with your solicitor. This could be several days, by which time there is little trace of the scammer's bank account.

Victims of the conveyancing scam

There are apparently on average two successful scams per week, bringing the scammers around £250k each week. This Is Money talks about newlyweds Sarah and Richie, who lost the deposit they've been saving years for. The bank account they transferred the money to is now unidentifiable, and is held overseas. This is the way the scammers work, so that there is no trace of the activity surrounding the theft. Another case reported by The Telegraph, the paper which first highlighted this scam, was the Luptons, who lost £48,500 but were able to get compensation from the conveyancing firm's insurer, after a long 8 month wait.

How can you protect yourself?

One way to protect yourself is that any time you receive an email requesting extra information, or requesting bank account information, or asking you to transfer money, make sure you have a second line of communication with your solicitor and/or estate agent. You should always get hold of them on the telephone to check that the details you have received are correct.

Another way is to double check the 'sent from' email address - often this will be incorrect, even if everything else looks right. Check that the part after @ matches the solicitor's website address, or check previous emails from the firm. However, this cannot be depended on as scammers develop new ways to hack email accounts.

It has been suggested by This is Money that you should always use a secure wireless connection, and not somewhere like an internet cafe or public restaurant, when checking important emails and transferring large amounts of money.

The Telegraph has this to say:

  • Make it clear to your solicitor at the start of the process that you have no intention of changing your bank account details. Instruct them to ignore any requests to do so unless they are given by you in person.
  • When you first employ a conveyancing solicitor, ask that they send you their bank details in the post.
  • If you do receive a request to change the firm’s bank account details part way through the process, double check the information. Do not follow instructions sent in an email, even if it looks like it has come from a legitimate email address. Call the firm and ask for confirmation.

Even if the email from them doesn't mention details changing, it's still a good thing to double check the digits before transferring such a large amount of money. Everyone is keen to finish the conveyancing process, so it's understandable that people are taking the steps they know will speed up the process. However, for most people this is the largest amount of money they will ever spend, so caution is strongly advised.