First-time buyer, Howard Mollett, became the latest victim of conveyancing cybercrime when he transferred £74,000 to someone posing as his solicitor online.
Mr. Mollett was buying a flat with west London-based firm Sethi Partnership and was unaware of the potential risks of cybercrime.
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Unsolicited emails asked the buyer for cash payments
After making a down payment on his new Brixton-based flat, Mr. Mollett was due to pay the final sum, but after encountering problems sending the payment from the US where he was working, Mr. Mollett emailed his solicitors to find out how to proceed.
This is when the fraudsters took over.
Most conveyancing scams happen when fraudsters intercept client/solicitor email conversations, then create their own similar email address in order to contact the client, pretending to be their solicitor.
In the case of Mr. Mollett, he received an email informing him that his solicitor’s bank was having some issues and that as his completion date was very near, could he transfer the money into an alternative account.
He transferred a total of £74,000 to the fraudsters, and to this date has only received £7,837 back despite realising the error very quickly and contacting his bank, solicitor, and the bank that he transferred the money to.
Who is responsible for conveyancing fraud?
Banks can be notoriously slow to retrieve funds involved with a scam and sometimes won’t offer to do anything at all, stating that if the payment was made by the account owner, there is nothing they can or will do.
Mr. Mollett is hoping to retrieve the money from his solicitors’ firm via legal means, but this is not guaranteed, and the experience has no doubt been incredibly stressful for him and his family who had to help him find the money to continue with his home purchase.
Conveyancing fraud is most common type of legal cybercrime
The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) reports that conveyancing fraud is the most common type of cybercrime in the legal sector and consistently warns firms to educate their clients on the risks.
While only 300 of a reported 2,625 cases of conveyancing fraud have been successful, these represent an average loss of £101,000 each, meaning homebuyers and sellers are losing vast amounts of money to fraudsters, when this could have been easily avoided with the right information.
Mr. Mollett said his conveyancing firm only added a cybercrime warning onto their emails the day he informed them of his loss and as a first-time buyer, he expected more guidance on these issues.
How does Homeward Legal tackle cybercrime?
Homeward Legal is dedicated to avoiding cybercrime and we urge our clients to disregard any emails that ask for financial details or payments.
We will never email you to ask for your bank details, or to send any payments to different bank accounts, and nor should any professional conveyancing firm.
If you are concerned, wait and speak to your solicitor directly.
If we are to fight the growing risks of conveyancing cybercrime, we need to be educated, otherwise clients end up like poor Mr. Mollett, being scammed out of vast sums of money. Let’s hope he gets his money back and that the future cyber scammers aren’t quite so lucky.
If you would like to discuss conveyancing fraud or cybercrime, or if you want to find out more about our way of delivering safe, friendly and professional conveyancing services, please don’t hesitate to call us on 0800 038 6699.
If you’re a first-time buyer, check out Homeward Legal’s comprehensive First-Time Buyers’ Hub where all your questions about purchasing for the very first time and keeping your finances safe are covered in detail.