21 October 2016 by

Beware of email scams when buying and selling your property

A recent episode of the BBC’s Rip Off Britain (aired on 12 October 2016) highlighted the dangers of ever more sophisticated email hacking scams involving property transactions.  Cyber criminals are increasingly targeting home buyers’ emails in order to intercept completion monies.  The BBC program focused on two cases in which substantial sums of money were lost as a result of email scams.

The first case involved a couple losing £333,000 after having their emails intercepted during the process of selling a flat.  Prior to the completion of the sale, the couple’s solicitor emailed them requesting their bank account details for the sale proceeds to be paid into.  The cyber criminals in this matter intercepted that email exchange through hacking, and then emailed the solicitor from the same client email account providing the solicitor with a fraudulent bank account into which the monies were subsequently transferred.  The scam was only discovered a few days later after the couple chased their solicitors regarding the missing payment.

The second case involved a house buyer transferring completion funds to her solicitor.  The seller received an email purporting to be from her solicitor advising her that the firm had changed their bank account details.  The client arranged for a BACS transfer of £80,000 to the new bank account she had been given.  A few days later, the client called her solicitor to make sure that the funds had been safely received only to be informed that the firm had not received the monies and that the account details she had used were wrong.

On investigation, it was revealed that the client’s email account, and not the solicitor’s email, had been infected with a highly sophisticated computer virus that enabled the cyber criminals to track her emails.  The hackers carried out the attack by changing just one letter of the solicitor’s genuine email address to send their email, with the fraudulent bank details, which appeared identical to the previous emails the client had received from her solicitor.

At Bolt Burdon we emphasise to all our clients that our bank details will not change during their property transaction and that no funds should be sent to any bank account other than the one for which details are provided at the outset of the matter.  It is vitally important that clients are aware of the threat of cyber fraud and take steps to mitigate the risk by exercising caution whenever transferring funds.  If you are in doubt, then you should always call your solicitor as it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you have any queries regarding this article, then please contact Amie Sneesby in our Residential Conveyancing team on 0207 288 4761 or email her at amiesneesby@boltburdon.co.uk.

You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the Residential Property team here.

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