Criminals are targeting a new group of victims: people buying and selling houses. In the first three months of 2016, the proportion of attempted mortgage fraud committed by identity thieves increased from 4% to 6%, according to Experian. Typically, these fraudsters use malware that allows them to gain access to the computers of individuals, estate agents and law firms. This enables them to intercept emails between conveyancers and clients.
When it comes to transferring large sums of money say, a deposit or balance on a property they send a spoof email from the conveyancer requesting clients send funds to a fraudulent bank account. Criminals are able to delete any correspondence chasing up funds from the conveyancer. As a result, victims may only realise their money has disappeared when they speak to their conveyancer on the phone or in person often long after the funds have been swiped. Some victims have got their money back; others have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
So if you're purchasing a property or making any other large transfers it's worth going to some effort to make sure you can't be scammed. Ensure you have a trusted contact at your conveyancing firm for raising queries. Firms should never send you updates related to banking eg, new account details over email. If they do, call your known contact to ensure the details are genuine. And before transferring significant amounts of money, send a test payment of £1 and check that it has been received. It's worth the hassle to know that your transaction has gone through safely.
Natalie joined MoneyWeek in March 2015. Prior to that she worked as a reporter for The Lawyer, and a researcher/writer for legal careers publication the Chambers Student Guide.
She has an undergraduate degree in Politics with Media from the University of East Anglia, and a Master’s degree in International Conflict Studies from King’s College, London.
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