Police have been called in to investigate a case whereby a law firm’s firm’s identity and address stolen, with the result that the buyer’s completion money was not received by the seller’s solicitor and the funds went elsewhere.
Rob Hailstone, who runs the Bold Group, a network of conveyancers, was told about the case late last week and says police investigations are ongoing.
The scam, which he says is far from a one-off, could have involved something as simple as someone copying the law firm’s email address, and then sending the incorrect bank details to the buyer’s lawyer. The firm’s system may have been hacked into to get the details of the deal and the parties involved.
At the same time, another Bold Group member reported having received what appeared to be a new email instruction with an attachment. Unfortunately, it was no such thing, and the law firm’s email system crashed.
Hailstone has also alerted Bold Group members to take immediate action to ensure they are not caught out in future, so that law firms acting for sellers check out those acting for buyers – and vice versa.
Hailstone said checks included cross-checking across using the Find a Solicitor service, the legal firm’s own website, and LawyerChecker, and also checking the firm’s letterhead.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority issued no fewer than 13 fraud/scam alerts last month, all urging conveyancing firms to be ultra cautious about who they are dealing with, and to ensure that their identities cannot be stolen. Typically, the warnings highlight a fake individual or firm impersonating, usually very plausibly, a genuine solicitor or practice.
Hailstone said: “Despite what people think, conveyancing is complicated, pressurised, and with crooks around, risky.”