Cyber crime gangs are stealing millions of pounds from house buyers and sellers in a conveyancing fraud.
The scams are said to be escalating and worth on average over £112,000.
One agent, Chestertons, is so concerned that it has drawn up a list of tips for sellers and buyers to avoid the fraud by which buyers are fleeced of their deposits.
Chestertons is also warning that similar frauds could easily be perpetrated on tenants waiting to conclude tenancy agreements and place deposits and rental money.
Police said foreign crime syndicates could be responsible for the frauds, whereby criminals hack into the email correspondence between sellers, buyers, solicitors and estate agents.
The fraudsters then send an authentic-looking email, usually on the day of completion, falsely telling the buyer or the buyer’s solicitor that bank account details of the conveyancer have changed.
The criminals then empty out the bank account with the new details.
Action Fraud says there were 91 such frauds last year up until October, the last month for which figures are available.
In September and October alone, 16 cases of fraud were reported.
Steve Proffit, deputy head of Action Fraud, said: “We are getting more and more instances of this. The outcome for the fraudster is tremendous. They can early £1m on the sale of a house in the south-east.”
Chestertons is advising that rather than giving out sensitive information such as bank details by email, home movers – including tenants – should pick up the phone or go into the branch.
Chestertons says that home hunters using property portals to search for their next home, should be especially wary of registering to receive details.
The firm warns that cyber criminals are very aware of the time scales involved in property deals, and when deposits, including rental deposits, are likely to be transferred,
The firm says: “You should be careful about how much information you share, especially if there is no pre-existing relationship with the firm that you’re contacting.
“Remember to give just enough details for agents, surveyors or lenders to get in touch with you as required and understand your basic requirements. Do not give any bank details.”