Cybercrime - beware house buyers, don't let your dream purchase become a nightmare

09 April 2018

Beware of the growing dangers of digital conveyancing fraud in Lincolnshire, Wilkin Chapman solicitor warns.

A devastated victim of cybercrime lost nearly £900,000 when their computer was hacked, unbeknown to them, during what was to be a move to their dream home.

The revelation from Stuart Green, of Lincolnshire-based SJG Digital, has led to a warning from leading regional law firm Wilkin Chapman solicitors about the growing dangers of digital conveyancing fraud.

The warnings come as the national Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), the economic regulator for the £75 trillion UK payment systems industry, published a report on further work set to be done to protect consumers.

This also comes on the same week as the Daily Telegraph reported how a 50-year-old restaurateur told of a ‘devastating loss’ of almost £600,000 to cyber criminals.

The unnamed man had borrowed the cash from his own business for a property purchase, but was tricked into paying it all to a fraudster, who used email to pose as a solicitor. The criminal had intercepted mails the man had sent and advised that the money be paid into an alternative account.

Mr Green, whose Market Rasen-based firm offers a wide range of IT systems and security services work and advice, sees numerous examples of those at risk from attack by cyber criminals.

Blackmail and capturing personal data to steal money are two of the main aims of the criminals, he said, citing the one particular case of conveyancing fraud.

“The way conveyancing fraud works is by the bad guys gaining control of one of the computers involved in the transaction and watching the email flow.

“When the time is right, the victim of the fraud is duped into transferring the cash into an account that doesn’t belong to the firm involved, but belongs to the bad guys. This is usually through an email which looks like it is from the firm but isn’t. In this particular case, the victim transferred nearly £900,000 into the bad guys’ account and nothing could be recovered,” said Mr Green.

“The cyber criminals had hacked into the computer of the victim some months before the transaction, saw the opportunity and took it. Just because a computer doesn’t show that it has been hacked, doesn’t mean it hasn’t,” Mr Green adds.

Edward Atkin, a Partner at Wilkin Chapman solicitors, has more than 10 years’ experience in dealing with residential and commercial property locally and nationally.

His team undergoes regular training to ensure they are aware of the dangers and prime times for such crime – with Fridays being a day marked out on the cyber criminals’ calendar. This is when most transactions are completed and the thieves are aware of that – a third of all such fraud happens on a Friday.

Mr Atkin outlined standard procedures to prevent attack, including never accepting bank details over a computer and making it clear that the firm never changes its banking details. Written documents with such details on are always provided, with no need for such information to be digitally sent or received.

“We make it extremely clear that if a client receives anything suggesting that bank details are changing then it is almost certanly fraudulent. They must also be extremely aware of the email address being used – it may be very similar to one of ours, but may have an extra letter or number in there that is not easy to notice.

“These fraudsters are very sophisticated and getting more so. This is something that everyone must be extremely aware of – on all sides. We must all ensure that the training and expertise is in place to best safeguard ourselves and the client from the risk of any type of fraud,” he added.

If you need secure legal conveyancing support and advice, find out more here, or contact our moving home team on 01472 262626.

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