I first started work in a solicitor’s office in 1977 as a secretary to one of the partners. I was paid £20 per week. A loaf of bread then only cost 15 pence and a pint of beer 38 pence. The average house price was £13,000. It is now over £200,000.
In 1977 in a solicitor’s office you would receive your post first thing in the morning and maybe a second delivery of post in the afternoon. You would work your way through the post during the day. Oh how different life is now when very little arrives by “snail mail”. Instead your “post” arrives 24 hours a day 7 days a week by e mail. The advantages are that e mail is extremely fast. E mails can be sent and received from any device anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. If using broadband then each e mail is effectively free and so communication is very cheap.
When dealing with financial transactions however we must always be aware of online attacks. Fraud can occur when criminals intercept e mails exchanged between for example homebuyers or home sellers and their solicitors. Fraudsters generate fake e mails purporting to be from the solicitor asking the other to make payments into a new bank account. The payments are often very large representing deposits on properties or in some cases the entire amount for a property purchase. Once the money has been paid the criminals drain the accounts.
According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority there are 10,500 solicitor firms in England and Wales. Nearly 3,000 have been targeted by fraudsters. In 300 cases the fraudsters have been successful.
A couple from Chelmsford lost £120,000 when they unwittingly sent that sum to a fraudster’s account. The money was to pay inheritance tax on their grandmother’s estate. They thought they were sending it to their solicitor. They were horrified when they discovered that it did not arrive. The fraudster had intercepted e mails and sent false bank details. The fraudster even acknowledged the payment and so it was several days before the couple realised it had gone into the wrong account. The bank in Braintree did not help the couple even though the solicitor’s firm actually banked with that branch. The bank should have thought it was strange that they were asked to send money to an account at a bank in Kent. The problem is that the recipient of the payment is identified by a unique identifier and not by the recipient’s name. The bank refused to compensate the couple and referred them to the financial ombudsman.
Remember avoid communicating with your solicitor by e mail when it comes to making financial transactions. Never trust an e mail containing bank or other payment request details. Always phone the person you want to pay to check any information you have been given before you send a significant sum. Make sure you get the phone number independently for example from directory enquiries or from the solicitor’s website. Do not take it from the e mail. Send a small payment first before sending a larger payment. Be aware that solicitors will advise you of their bank details by post and that these details will not change during the transaction under any circumstances. Never allow yourself to be pressurised into proceeding faster than you are comfortable with. Pressure to do things quickly is a classic scammer’s tactic and appears again and again in fraud of all sizes.
Get yourself into the mind set that e mails are generally insecure. They can be hacked easily and fake messages sent. All e mail requests for payment or sensitive information should be double checked. Put e mail security first.
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