Northern Ireland news

Thousands of pounds stolen in elaborate scam targeting house buyers

The deposits and other payments connected to house purchases are stolen by the scammers

SOLICITORS are warning `buyer beware' after one family lost their over £20,000 deposit in one of a raft of new cyber-scams in Northern Ireland targetting house purchases.

Since September 2015, the Law Society has issued more than 118 scam alerts to its members, with solicitors reporting that criminals are now "actively targetting home buyers with transfer scams".

Thousands of pounds has been stolen in the latest elaborate scam, which involves the cyber-criminals hacking into `free' email accounts, such as `hotmail'. `yahoo' and `gmail'.

They then search for key words, such as `conveyancing', `transaction', `money' or `house buying' and start to intercept communications between them and their solicitor.

Once they identify the law firm involved, they block its messages and send communications from cloned email addresses.

The criminals wait until the transaction almost completed before asking for it to be put into the fraudster's own bank account.

The deposits and other payments connected to house purchases are stolen by the scammers and "unfortunately in many instances the money has never been recovered", a Law Society spokesman said.

Following multiple reports of these crimes, leaving clients thousands of pounds out of pocket and unable to proceed with sales, The Law Society is today launching its `Call, Check and Confirm' campaign.

It provides guidance, information and recommended actions to all parties involved in a house sale or purchase.

Alan Reid from the Law Society said a few precautions can save house buyers a lot of heartache.

"Our simple message to home buyers is that it is very unusual for a solicitors' firm to change its bank account details in the course of a conveyancing transaction," he said.

"So if you receive an unexpected email apparently coming from your solicitor asking you to lodge money or a deposit into a new bank account simply call your solicitor, check with them and confirm that it is genuine. "

`Call, Check and Confirm' is one of a series of initiatives from the Law Society to support local solicitor firms and their clients to ensure their data and money is protected.

It has developed a reporting process for firms and others to report successful and unsuccessful scams involving ransomware, phishing, mail forwarding emails and bogus phone calls.

The information is then shared via an e-zine to all solicitor firms and through the society's website and social media accounts.

Information is available from www.lawsoc-ni.org or from local solicitors' offices.

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