Agents are being urged to step up their efforts to warn buyers of the possibility of fraud – and to be aware that fraudsters could be hacking into either their own and/or their clients’ and buyers’ email accounts.
In what appears to be an entirely new scam, on Monday a bogus email asking for the transfer of funds was sent to a buyer on the point of exchange – not by the alleged conveyancer, targeted so far in the scam, but apparently by the bona fide estate agents handling the sale.
The only thing missing from the email was the agent’s logo, a detail unlikely to be noticed by most recipients. The agents concerned have asked not to be named.
Scams involving conveyancing firms have been well documented; however, the convincing use of a fake estate agency email account seems a new tactic and could well fool purchasers into parting with large amounts of money, if they have not been explicitly told where funds should be transferred.
The bogus email from the agents said: “Dear . . .
“I believe it is now appropriate to request from you the deposit fund as I am delighted to hold the deposit monies strictly to your order until exchange
“Please note that I must receive these funds by bank transfer preferably tomorrow so I can confirm this to the sellers solicitors, as soon as you are ready to make settlement the conveyancing bank details will be sent to you upon request of payment
While the email was made to look as though it had come from the legitimate estate agents, it was queried by the purchaser, a client of Hampshire law firm Warner Goodman.
She checked with the firm’s conveyancer, but said she could well have sent money to the fraudster had she not already been asked for the deposit by Warner Goodman.
Walter Goodman in turn immediately alerted the agent, who said it will from now warn all future buyers.
Warner Goodman partner Sarah Brooks has asked for the issue to be highlighted, so that all estate agents inform buyers that they will never request deposits to be sent to an account, and to tell them they should only ever communicate with the genuine conveyancer handling their case.
Brooks said: “It may be that estate agents are doing this already, but this case was a near miss.”
Rob Hailstone, of Bold Legal Group to which Warner Goodman belongs, has passed on the alert to all other agents.
He said: “Most solicitors and conveyancers are aware of the potential frauds and scams they and their clients can get caught up in if they are not constantly vigilant.
“Emails can be monitored and virtually duplicated in order to divert deposit and or completion funds to bogus accounts.
“Passports and other documents can be obtained or forged to convince the unsuspecting (and sometimes even the suspecting) that the bearers of them own properties they don’t.
“Do many estate agents actually warn buyers and sellers about the threats that exist?”