Property warning: Home buyer scammed into paying £640k in ‘devastating’ conveyancing fraud

Woman describes how she lost £60k to mortgage fraud

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The home buyer was scammed into paying the sizeable amount of cash after emails between them and their solicitor had been intercepted by criminals. The criminals collected all the information relating to the transaction and then set up a fake email account – which was made to look like that of the solicitor – to request payment. Payment details were provided on headed solicitors’ paper via the email account and the amount of money was the exact amount the buyer had expected to pay.

The buyer was later told by their actual solicitor that these payments had not been requested.

The majority of the money was never recovered which led to their money and savings being wiped.

As a result, the property transaction collapsed and the victim was left with a life-long dent in their personal finances.

Shockingly, there has been a spike in these types of scams with victims being defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, according to The Law Society.

The Law Society of England and Wales has joined forces with the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), which is housed within the National Crime Agency, and Action Fraud to issue flyers warning of the risk of payment diversion fraud.

Fraudsters are targeting property purchases with the aim of tricking people into transferring their house deposit or the balance of purchase monies to them.

The scams almost always involve the criminals pretending to be the victims’ lawyer to try and con them into diverting their payments to a bank account controlled by them.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We are urging our members to share these flyers with their clients in order to help protect them from these highly-sophisticated and cruel schemes.

“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances.

“Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals.”

Jon Shilland, fraud threat lead at the NECC, said payment diversion fraud is “increasing” with criminals targeting home buyers due to the sheer volume of transactions taking place at the moment.

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He added: “Whenever a client is making a payment to their solicitor for a house purchase, they should be highly suspicious of any change in account details or new instructions.

“Remind them to always check with a trusted known contact, and if they have any doubt not to transfer the money.”

How can you protect yourself from conveyancing fraud?

The Law Society has shared their tips so you can avoid becoming a victim in the future.

Receive bank details from your law firm either in person or over the phone at the start of the conveyancing process.

If the details were to change in the future, try and agree a plan for legitimising them, like confirming them in person.

You can also ask them to confirm the details by post for extra security.

Law firms will rarely change their details so if you receive an email or phone call saying there has been a change in bank details, always question its authenticity.

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Speak to your lawyer or someone senior at the firm on a published number to confirm the changes.

Don’t feel pressured into changing any details before you have spoken to someone and check email addresses carefully.

If in doubt, use a trusted phone number to speak to someone from the firm, not the one on the email.

Make sure you have strong and separate passwords for your accounts and have anti-virus software on all your devices.

The best way to create a strong password is by choosing three random words, numbers and symbols.

Another way to protect yourself is by not sharing on social media that you’re buying or selling a home or getting a mortgage.

Also avoid using public or unprotected Wi-Fi systems to check emails when you’re buying a property.

These can be more vulnerable so fraudsters can hack them.

If you are making a payment to an account for the first time, transfer a small amount first and then check with them the money has gone through.

If you have any doubt, do not transfer your money and wait until you’re sure the details are correct.

What to do if you’re a victim of fraud

Contact your bank for advice on fraudulent advice and ask them to contact the receiving bank to freeze the transaction

Alert your lawyer as other customers could be targeted by fraudsters

Contact Action Fraud here or on 0300 123 2040

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