House buyers warned of solicitor email scam

Holly Thomas / 22 March 2016

Victims have lost thousands of pounds in a scam where criminals hack emails and dupe home buyers into transferring money into a fake solicitor's account.

Scams are everywhere you look these days with greedy fraudsters coming up with clever new ways of extracting cash from honest hard-working people.

It seems that the process of home-buying is no longer exempt from fraud with a growing number of buyers losing their deposits to conmen.

How it works

The cruel online con takes place where a computer hacker monitors emails sent by a solicitor and a homebuyer. They scan correspondence for where cash transactions are discussed – in some cases, solicitors’ emails are hacked, and in others, it’s the buyer that is targeted. 

When a bank transfer is about to be made – typically for a deposit – they pounce.

The fraudster will email the homebuyer pretending to be from the solicitor’s address, typically telling them that the details of the law firm’s bank account has changed.

The unsuspecting homebuyer sends their cash to the new account, where it is withdrawn by the criminals, never to be seen again.

The buyer does not usually realise they have been scammed until the real solicitor requests the funds or they perhaps call to track progress.

Guide to spotting a scam email.

Official warnings

The Solicitors Regulation Authority watchdog warns that this scam is on the increase. It says around four companies a month are being targeted by fraudsters. 

A spokesperson for the Government agency, Action Fraud, said: "Through malware or through insecure networks the fraudsters will be able to view a person’s email exchanges and their activity online, this will allow them to find out information about people, read their emails and ascertain that they are in the process of buying a house."

Eight warning signs that your identity has been stolen.

Be on your guard

If you’re buying a new property, as always, if you receive a suspicious email, contact your law firm to check it is genuine. 

Be equally on your guard for any emails about payments, particularly if there is a change in bank details at the last minute. Many victims are contacted (by the fraudster) and told that the regular account is being “audited” and so another one must be used.

With any transfer of funds during the homebuying process, don’t be afraid to double check over the phone with your solicitor's firm.

Six sneaky tricks estate agents might try.

What can I do if I have been targeted?

Getting your money back once it’s been transferred is extremely rare. Because the money was willingly transferred by the account holder, there is little recompense. 

Banks are liable for money taken from your account, but not money deliberately sent.

For more tips and useful information, browse our money articles.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.