Financial & Legal News

INSIGHT: Beware of Bogus Solicitor Emails

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Businesses and individuals are being warned to be extra vigilant of bogus emails from fraudsters posing as solicitors. Karen Piontek, associate lawyer in our commercial property team, offers some practical simple steps to take.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), there were 791 bogus law firms registered in 2014, more than double the figure in 2012. The SRA is issuing almost one report a day as a warning to unsuspecting firms.

The motivation behind these scams is consistent, with the fraudster’s ultimate aim being to obtain the personal and financial details of a client in order to siphon funds out of bank accounts, savings and investment funds. In some cases, the scam can occur over a long period of time so that the victim remains completely unaware.

However, the methods they use to facilitate the scam are becoming increasingly sophisticated and property transactions are especially vulnerable to bogus solicitors. Such scams include convincing clients that the building or land they’ve purportedly purchased has been transferred legally to them, or advertise and sell properties by claiming to represent the seller. The fraudsters have also managed to intercept firms’ emails posing to be a solicitor on the other side of the transaction in the hope that they receive the proceeds of sale.

With more and more communication taking place electronically, and the advent of online-only conveyancing firms, it is a lot easier for fraudsters to capture the information they need quickly and covertly. A growing number are also cloning details to make themselves look even more legitimate.

While the majority of emails sent by solicitors are from real, reputable firms, it is important to look out for the signs of a scam before it’s too late. Here’s some key questions to ask:

  • Have you scrutinised the email address? Solicitors never use Hotmail or Gmail addresses professionally and random letters or words are a tell-tale sign that the sender isn’t legitimate
  • Look for an SRA roll number or ID number on email footers, letterheads and any official communication. If you can’t find it, ask them for it as any genuine solicitor will be able to provide it for you
  • Use the ‘Find a Solicitor’ facility on the Law Society’s online directory. Although not all legitimate firms are listed, it’s a good place to start
  • Be aware of those who call themselves anything other than a solicitor as they do not need an SRA ID. Most will probably be genuine paralegals or conveyancing  executives but some are fraudsters trying to exploit the loophole
  • Conduct a formal Lawyer Checker Search prior to sending the funds on completion. These searches check if the solicitor’s client account is an account used by other conveyancers in the past and has been used for some time, therefore highlighting any in discrepancies or matters of concern

Pearson Solicitors have rigorous pre-completion checks and systems in place together with up-to-date firewall technology to prevent fraudulent interception.

For advice on bogus emails and property law issues, call Karen Piontek on 0161 684 6951.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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