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Conveyancing Scams:
Could You Spot the Signs and Keep Your Money Safe?

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Often called ‘Friday afternoon fraud’, scammers prey on their victims on the busiest day of the week for completing property transactions. Some lose money when transferring funds at the deposit stage, others when nearing completion.

Mousetrap with wooden house

Moving house can be a real headache. During any typical conveyancing transaction rushed correspondence is bouncing between the client, estate agents, mortgage advisers, banks, and each side’s solicitor for weeks or even months. All this culminates on moving day. These professionals are seasoned experts, handling countless transactions daily. But could something still go wrong?

Most conveyancing scams occur through impersonation. Scammers intercept genuine email correspondence between a property professional and their client, waiting for the right moment to act. They may take over the property professional’s email account or, more likely, clone it, so that they can pretend to be that person and intercept funds meant for a house purchase.

By choosing the busiest day of the week or time of day, the scammers know that both the solicitors and the clients are likely to be distracted, rushed or even a little stressed, leaving them more susceptible to manipulation. Changes to letters or numbers in an email address might be so subtle that the recipient doesn’t even notice the correspondence is not from the same person – on the face of it, all other reference numbers, names, addresses and deposit or balance amounts are correct.

If this is a first-time purchase or a deposit payment to a solicitor, the unwitting victim may never have transferred money to the firm before, so has no prior knowledge of the genuine bank account details for the firm. At the last minute, the ‘solicitor’ might give details of a new bank account where funds should be sent.

Once the money has been transferred, offices close for the weekend, the property transaction does not go through as planned, but little can be done until Monday morning. By this time, the scammer has usually moved the money on, into another account which is untraceable and possibly overseas.

We’ve highlighted the impact to victims of conveyancing scams before. One such victim had to pay the deposit for an investment property in a series of incremental payments. The other was given new bank details (by the scammer) after the deposit had been paid to the genuine solicitor. Both cases involved email interception and impersonation.

Another recently reported scam victim lost £100,000 to a similar email intercept scam. The money was intended as payment for a house deposit, but scammers intercepted emails from their solicitor, taking over the conversation and redirecting where the money should be paid. Afterwards, the victim discovered that the letters ‘vv’ in the genuine firm’s email address had been changed to the letter ‘w’—very difficult to spot and an easy mistake to make! Included in the scammer’s emails were bank details and instructions to send four payments of £25,000 – this appears to be a tactic used by scammers as smaller amounts may not attract as much attention from the banks.

After discovering they had been scammed, the victim contacted their bank, Lloyds, who eventually refunded £25,000. The fraudster’s account was with HSBC, whose fraud systems flagged the four payments, causing the account to be frozen. That meant the money could not all be moved elsewhere, and over £51,000 was available for refund. However, HSBC also admitted human error on their part and accepted shared liability for the remainder of the money that had been paid into the fraudster’s account. In the end, and to their considerable relief, the fraud victim received a full refund.

Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud involves victims being persuaded to transfer money from their own bank accounts directly to the scammer’s account. Clever tactics involving social engineering and a sense of urgency combine to make these scams appear legitimate and believable.

Bank transfers using telephone or online banking result in the almost immediate transfer of funds. Scammers use this to their advantage, swiftly moving funds to another account, making the money difficult, if not impossible, to trace.

Conveyancing scams are only one type of APP fraud: others include romance scams and employment scams. All are designed to bypass bank security and fraud warnings.

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself and your money from a conveyancing scammer:

  • Set up multi-factor authentication on all your email and banking accounts. These are designed to keep you, your personal details and your money safe, even though they might feel like a nuisance.
  • Be vigilant that emails from the professionals involved in your property purchase continue to be sent from exactly the same email address as before. Very subtle differences could include a capital letter ‘i’ being swapped for the number ‘1’, or the letters ‘vv’ being changed to ‘w’.
  • Has the writing style of the emails changed? Look at spelling, grammar and prose.
  • Double check bank account details directly with the firm you intend to transfer money to. Look up their contact details online, then phone and speak to someone with authority to confirm the sort code, account number and account name.
  • Consider sending a small amount, such as £1, as a test, and then telephone the firm to ensure it has been safely received before sending the full amount.
  • Take time out: a real professional should not put you under time pressure to pay money. If you’re not sure, stop and check.

Our specialist team has many years of experience in successfully dealing with claims resulting from APP fraud. Banks have a duty of care to look after you and your money, but if you are not happy with how your bank has dealt with your complaint, it is possible to ask the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) to review your case.

FOS is an independent, government-backed service set up to settle disputes between financial institutions and their customers.

Sarah Spruce, Legal Director and head of the Professional Negligence team at TLW Solicitors, says:

“FOS is increasingly ruling in favour of scam victims, including those who have lost money through email intercept and impersonation scams, such as conveyancing scams. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed – today’s fraudsters use clever and sophisticated techniques to get their hands on your money.”

We work on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis, meaning that if we take on your refund claim but it is unsuccessful, you will not pay us a penny.

If you, a friend, loved one or colleague has been the victim of a conveyancing scam, please get in touch. Your enquiry will be treated in the strictest confidence – our specialist team will have a no obligation discussion and explore your options. You can call us on 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete one of the forms below.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible, as strict time limits can apply.

Minimum case values apply.

Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Authorised Push Payment Fraud Claims team.

Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.