You will probably have read horror stories of innocent people being conned out of thousands of pounds by fraudsters. Someone calls pretending to be from the bank and needs to check the individual's details and persuades them to divulge confidential information, or a company writes to tell them that they have won a prize, they just need to purchase one item from them first. You will probably be familiar with the term 'phishing' and may think that the people who fall for these scams are naïve and that it could never happen to you.
Fraudsters and scammers know their trade and choose their targets carefully. They understand human psychology and the levels of trust people have in their banks and trusted big name companies. The same applies for their solicitors. And unfortunately, this is where some of the more sophisticated fraudsters are targeting their efforts, particularly in the realm of 'cybercrime' where 'spear-phishing' is on the increase (i.e. targeting specific individuals or companies).
Picture the following scenario. Your solicitor, with whom you have worked for a number of years, and trust implicitly, is acting on the purchase of your dream home. Everything is progressing as well as you can expect and you have exchanged contracts to complete next Friday. On Monday, you receive an email from your solicitor asking you to transfer funds to a designated account, which you duly transfer. On Tuesday, you receive another email from your solicitor asking you to transfer the completion monies to the firm's client account. You are clearly confused, you have already sent the money!
The fraudster has been able to access your email account, and has been silently following your transaction for a number of weeks, intercepting emails between you and your solicitor, and pouncing just at the right time.
Another scenario which is becoming increasingly prevalent is where the fraudster pretends to be a client of the firm and sends the solicitor an email before completion telling the solicitor to send completion funds to a designated account. Again, the fraudster has hacked the client's email account and set up a fake email. This is sometimes referred to as the 'Friday afternoon' scam as it often targets conveyancing firms at times when they are likely to be holding significant amounts of money and are trying to get transactions completed before the weekend.
We take such security issues extremely seriously and are constantly working to ensure that we stay one step ahead of the fraudsters. Our clients should be equally vigilant. Emails, texts and calls from fraudsters and scammers can seem convincing and legitimate. If you have any suspicions, do not respond, do not send any monies, but please contact us immediately.
In particular, do not use bank account details sent to you by email unless you have verified them by other means (e.g. a phone call to our number as stated on our website). If you receive an email stating a change in bank account details purporting to be from Mishcon de Reya LLP, do not send the funds to that account, but please do contact us immediately.
You can find further information on cybercrime on the Solicitors Regulation Authority's website.