What are the current risks?
Organised crime gangs are suspected to have stolen millions by hacking into emails sent between solicitors and their clients. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2015 there were an estimate 7.6 million cases of fraud and cybercrime in England and Wales alone!
How are you as a client exposed to cybercrime?
Generally, communication between solicitors and their clients during the property transaction is done electronically. As such both clients and solicitors must be cautious as to what information they include in emails. In one recent case, a hacker managed to intercept e-mails, and posing as a solicitor, the hacker sent an e-mail to a client informing them that the firm’s usual client account was being audited, and that completion monies should be sent to an alternative account. The client transferred nearly £300,000 to the fraudster’s account. In another case, solicitors acting for a lender released the mortgage funds to fraudsters who were holding themselves out as a non-existent branch of a genuine firm of solicitors. The client was left with no property and a mortgage debt!
What can you do to avoid cybercrime?
Take care to instruct solicitors who have clear policies and procedures in place for dealing with the risk of fraud. This should include utilising specialised organisations in order to verify other solicitors’ account details. Whenever possible, you should meet your solicitor in person and avoid sending any sensitive information, such as bank account details, by email, which can easily be intercepted by a perpetrator.