Online financial fraud is a hot topic. Cases of consumers being defrauded of financial sums, large and small, seem to be in the headlines on a weekly basis. No matter what amount an individual is duped out of, the consequences can be devastating.
We may think of the victims of such frauds as being the elderly, perhaps those not so au fait with the world of online and telephone banking, and who are of a more trusting generation. The reality is, however, that these criminals are becoming ever more sophisticated and brazen in their attempts to defraud, and the sums of money they are targeting are ever growing, making those involved in the high pressure, often high speed world of commercial property transactions a ripe target.
Criminals are now able to monitor activity on email accounts, enabling them to instigate attempted frauds at the optimum time. A recent example of this is a woman who was due to pay her builder for work carried out on an extension to her house which ran into thousands of pounds. At the time that she was expecting an invoice, she received an email from her builder’s email account attaching an invoice for the anticipated amount. The invoice showed the correct details of the business and the work done, and looked entirely professional. She therefore paid over the money into the account stated on the invoice, only to discover later on that she had inadvertently and apparently “voluntarily” paid thousands of pounds to a fraudster.
There have also been examples of a similar nature in legal property transactions. One involved first time buyers of a residential property who had spent years saving for a deposit for their first home. Unbeknownst to them, a criminal was monitoring the Gmail account used by the solicitor acting for the seller of their property and sent an email from the account at the expected time, requesting payment of the deposit monies into their “client account”. The money was paid, only to disappear into the hands of criminals.
Commercial property transactions frequently require a swift turn around, with all parties under a huge amount of pressure. Whilst many transactions are undertaken by companies and individuals with sophisticated knowledge and experience of such transactions, this doesn’t mean that the risk of online fraud should not be considered.
Being aware of the potential risks is an important first step. You should always ensure that the firm which you are instructing has sufficient IT security measures in place to help prevent such attempts, as well as adequate insurance policies. When being asked to make any payment, it’s likely that the request will come via email. Always ensure that you speak to your adviser by telephone to double check that the email has come from the person it purports to have done and that the account details provided in the email are genuine.
If there’s any doubt over the details of any payment to be made, you should pick up the phone and speak to your solicitor. Online fraud is a growing area of concern for all firms of solicitors, and a conversation about the risks in your particular transaction could provide crucial reassurance for both you and your solicitor.