Home purchasers and real estate agents in the United Kingdom and Ireland are being targeted by cybercriminals using a new solicitor email campaign. The scam, which includes mimicking a solicitor, is costing victims thousands. Additionally, there have some cases seen where cybercriminals are contacting solicitors emails claiming to be their clients and asking for changes in their bank details. Any pending transfers are then sent to the criminals’ accounts.
As funds for home purchases are sent to solicitors’ accounts before being shared with the sellers, if cybercriminals can amend the bank details for the transfers, the funds for the purchase will be paid straight into their bank accounts.
While email spoofing is not unusual, this solicitor email scam often includes the hacking of solicitors’ email accounts. Once access has been obtained, cybercriminals search for emails shared from buyers and sellers of homes to identify possible targets. While the hacking of email accounts is taking place, there have also been instances where emails between buyers, sellers and their solicitors have been captured. When bank details for a transfer are sent, the hackers amend the bank information in the email to their own and then send the email on.
The solicitor email scam is sophisticated and communications are monitored until the crucial point in the purchasing process when a bank transfer is about to be completed. Since the possible rewards are considerable, cybercriminals are willing to invest the time and effort into the scam and be patient. Buyers, vendors and solicitors are well researched and the emails appear authentic.
This conveyancing scam has been on the rise in recent months and it has now become the most common cybercrime impacting the legal sector. The Law Society, a representative organization for solicitors in the UK, has issued a warning about the conveyancing scam due to an rising number of complaints, although it is currently unclear how many fraudulent transfers have been completed.
The simple way to prevent such a scam from being successful is to contact the homebuyer or seller before any transfer is made and to verbally confirm the bank details. Additionally policies can be developed requiring bank account information to only be sent via postal mail.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued guidance that advises against the use of email for property transactions due to the potential for cybercriminals to intercept and spoof messages. Email may be simple, but with such large sums being transferred it pays to use an abundance of caution.
While this solicitor email scam has been seen in many places across the UK and Ireland, legal firms in the United States should also use caution.