The Law Society of England and Wales have raised concerns over the current rise in fraud specifically targeting home buyers. Known as Payment Diversion Fraud, the scams involve criminals posing as solicitors to send forged correspondence, with the unsuspecting recipient conned into making a payment.
With our growing reliance on the internet, scammers have become even more adept at intercepting data. Working with the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) and Action Fraud, the Law Society are now advising their members to send warnings to clients in the process of a property sale.
Payment Diversion Fraud refers to the criminal act of imitating an individual or a business to obtain a payment. Also called Business Email Compromise or Mandate Fraud, scammers can target both companies and individuals, often relying on ineffective internet security to acquire information.
In comparison to other examples of online cons, Payment Diversion Fraud involves infiltrating and manipulating a specific person or business, causing emotional as well as monetary damage. In the case of home buyers, figures can be in the thousands and can leave victims in financial difficulty.
Action Fraud received 4,600 cases in the year up to September 2021, with individual damages of around £30,000.“Always check with a trusted known contact,” advises Jon Shilland, fraud threat lead at the National Economic Crime Centre, “And if you have any doubt do not transfer the money.”
Cyber attacks have risen considerably over the past two years. While digitalised processes have allowed life to continue, many internet users have only the basic level of protection. Using open Wi-Fi, unsecure networks, and neglecting to change passwords can easily leave individuals vulnerable.
More recently, fraudsters have targeted home buyers by hacking into their email accounts. They then copy existing emails between home buyers and solicitors and use them to create fake accounts to ask for payments. In one case, the figure was over £640,000.
Law Society president Stephanie Boyce described the crime as “highly-sophisticated and cruel” and urged property buyers to be “extremely vigilant” for suspect activity. Home buyers should be on the lookout for anything unusual within an email and to check by telephone with their solicitor before transferring any money.
Everyone should be wary of emails that contain links or attachments, and any that come from an unfamiliar or new address. Another sign of potential fraud can be a request marked as urgent, or for an unexpected or large payment. The language may also be different, and spelling or grammatical errors can also be indicators.
Should a scam occur, home buyers must contact their bank and Action Fraud as soon as possible.
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