Regulation & Government

Law Society issues fraud warning as home buyers targeted

Criminals are ‘actively targeting’ property purchases with the aim of tricking people into transferring over their house deposit and/or the balance of purchase monies to them

Home buyers are being warned about a spike in scams which have seen victims reportedly defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Law Society of England and Wales have joined forces with the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), which is housed within the National Crime Agency, and Action Fraud, to issue flyers warning of the risk of payment diversion fraud.

According to the Law Society, criminals are “actively targeting” property purchases with the aim of tricking people into transferring over their house deposit and/or the balance of purchase monies to them.

Reportedly, the frauds almost always involve the criminals pretending to be the victim’s lawyer to con them into diverting their payment to an account the frauds control.

The Law Society revealed that one house buyer was scammed into handing over £640,000 as emails between the buyer and their solicitor had been intercepted by criminals who were able to collect all the information relating to the house purchase.

These individuals then reportedly used a fake email account which was “made to look like that of the solicitor” to request payment. Payment details were provided on headed solicitors paper via the fake email, with the amount requested that was the price the buyer had expected to pay.

The Society said the victim was later advised by the genuine solicitor that these payments had not been requested. Most of the money was never recovered, “all-but wiping out the victim’s equity and savings, and leading to the collapse of their purchase”, said the Society.

Stephanie Boyce, Law Society president, said: “We are urging our members to share these flyers with their clients in order to help protect them from these highly-sophisticated and cruel schemes.

“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances. Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals.”

She added: “Buyers should be extremely vigilant if there appears to be any change of payment details, and always double-check by calling their lawyer before they transfer their money, as emails can be intercepted or diverted.”

Jon Shilland, fraud threat lead at the NECC, said: “Payment diversion fraud is increasing and it is vital to be alive to the threat as criminals are targeting home-buyers due to the scale of the transactions.

“Whenever a client is making a payment to their solicitor for a house purchase, they should be highly suspicious of any change in account details or new instructions. Remind them to always check with a trusted known contact, and if they have any doubt not to transfer the money.”

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