A property purchase is one of the biggest financial commitments most people will make. And we need to know that our money is safe during the final transaction part of the conveyancing process. However, the risk of digital fraud has increased as more buyers and sellers use emails and online banking to seal the deal.
The most prominent happen where fraudsters hack into the email system of either the legal firm acting for the buyer or seller or the individuals themselves and trick the innocent party into transferring perhaps thousands of pounds into the fraudster's own bank account.
Such frauds have been dubbed "Friday afternoon frauds" because the majority occur on that day, simply because of the amount of transactions completed in time for the weekend. It also gives the scammers a couple of days to cover their tracks.
Identity fraud is another problem in property sales, where a seller may not be who he or she claims or a fake legal firm fools a genuine buyer. With millions of pounds exchanged daily in property deals across the UK, it's no surprise that this market would be an attractive one to thieves.
Putting digital security first
So how do you as a buyer or seller ensure you keep your information safe and secure and ensure you don't fall victim to such a nasty crime? At Homeward Legal, our nationwide panel of solicitors and conveyancing firms are regulated by the Law Society through its Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Conveyancing Quality Scheme.
The SRA issues regular guidelines to its members on digital and IT security, encouraging solicitors to share information not only on actual frauds but on any attempts to infiltrate email systems in particular. Firms are expected to take the appropriate steps to protect their own systems and their clients' information, and if a client loses money because of negligence on a solicitor's part, the SRA may take action over a breach of its Code of Conduct.
Solicitors and conveyancers are also expected to confirm the identity of a seller and the legal entity representing them to ensure they are indeed who they say they are.
Old-fashioned methods that are tried and trusted
While you put trust in your legal representatives that they are doing all in their power to protect you, there are steps you can also take to give an added layer of protection. Email is a fantastic tool that aids communication and can speed up the conveyancing process, but digital fraudsters have the persistence, nous and will to infiltrate even the most secure of systems when large sums of money are at stake, so old-fashioned mail can be your shield in the first instance.
From the start of the conveyancing process, agree with your solicitors, in writing or by telephone the method by which your transaction will be settled financially. Treat any unexpected changes to these arrangements with suspicion and call your solicitor or conveyancer in person to discuss anything that seems untoward. Email contact is fine for general information exchanges, but do not commit any bank details to email and do not offer details of your account when unsolicited.
On the date you have agreed to transfer funds, transfer only a token amount at first and call your legal representatives to confirm they have received that. Only then should you transfer the outstanding balance and again call as soon as is practicable to confirm receipt.
Reassurance when it's required
Remember that fraudsters who have taken the trouble to infiltrate an email system and communicate with you will use sophisticated language to convince you they are genuine. If you are unsure of anything in an email exchange, get offline immediately and get on the phone to a number you know is the correct one and confirm everything in person.
At Homeward Legal, our professional and friendly sales team are available seven days a week. If you have received an email you're concerned about and cannot get in touch with your solicitor or conveyancer, you can call our team immediately and they will help clarify any issue. We place the highest priority on ensuring our clients' information remains secure and confidential at all times. We also understand how the conveyancing process can be a stressful one and sometimes simply a word of reassurance that your case is being dealt with safely can offer peace of mind.
Whether you are a buyer or seller, Homeward Legal can provide a no-obligation quote for your conveyancing needs while our no-completion, no-fee guarantee will ensure you are not out of pocket if, for some reason, your transaction does not complete. Call us now on or click here.