Conveyancing fraud was a major issue long before Covid-19 struck. The pandemic has, however, created new opportunities for scammers. This means that it is more important than ever to know how to protect your clients against conveyancing fraud. Here is a quick guide to help.
Understanding conveyancing fraud
At the end of the day, all conveyancing fraud hinges on getting the victim to believe that they are dealing with their genuine solicitor (or one of their solicitor’s employees). Once the victim is convinced of this, the fraudster can direct them to make a bank transfer into an account of their choosing. This might be for a payment the victim was expecting to make anyway (e.g. a deposit) or for a cost the fraudster invented.
This means that there are three golden rules for protecting against conveyancing fraud. The first is to protect personal identity. The second is to make sure that your clients positively and robustly identify anyone with whom they have dealings with. The third is to make sure that they understand what they are paying and why.
Protecting personal identity
The more a fraudster knows about someone, the more convincingly they can pretend to have a legitimate connection with that person. For example, very few, if any, legitimate companies will send out messages saying “Dear Customer”. They will use the person’s name. This means that emails without names are almost guaranteed to be spam.
Unfortunately, conveyancing fraud can net the fraudsters so much money that it’s worth their while to put in a lot of work to get it. Fortunately, there are ways to make a fraudster’s life very difficult by taking simple precautions to protect the clients identity.
Making sure that all devices (computers, tablets and mobiles) are using a current operating system and applying all updates and patches as soon as they are released is highly recommended. Invest in security software for all devices and if using public WiFi, always use a VPN (virtual private network) and consider using one at home.
Clients should collect mail regularly and shred anything with personal information on it before they recycle it. They should be vigilant on the phone and remember that legitimate callers are highly unlikely to ask for personal information.
The key point to remember here is that emails and phone numbers can all be faked relatively easily and they can never be relied on as a means of verification. Instead, get clients should get solicitor’s contact details directly from them and check anything involving money directly with them over the phone (or video-call). They should never be pressurised into taking action quickly. This is a tactic used by fraudsters, not solicitors.
Possibly the simplest step they can take to protect themselves against conveyancing fraud is to ask the solicitor for their bank details as soon as they hire them. If possible, they should transfer a small sum of money into their bank account and confirm that they receive it. After that, they should use that bank account and only that bank account for all transactions unless they are given positive proof that the solicitor has changed it.
Like everyone else, solicitor’s do change their bank accounts occasionally, but it is highly unusual and they would expect to be informed of this in writing far in advance of the changeover. To be extra secure, however, clients should double-check with their solicitor using contact details they have already verified.
Nannette Kendrick is the head of new business and marketing at Lovedays Solicitors.