A cybercrime specialist has reiterated the dangers of using email communications to finalise house purchases following a spate of conveyancing scams.

The scam, known as ‘Friday Afternoon Fraud’, involves tricking unsuspecting buyers into sending house purchase monies to a fraudster’s bank account, rather than the law firm’s client account.

It is so-called Friday afternoon fraud as the scam most commonly occurs late on a Friday, with criminals using the weekend break to escape with the money undetected. However, it can occur on any day or week.

Described as the “biggest cyber-threat of all”, the most recent statistics suggest that the scam accounted for 75 per cent of all cybercrimes reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2016.

So, how does it work?

The fraudsters will intercept email communications, either by hacking into the client or law firm’s email account, and wait patiently for the transaction to near completion.

The hacker will then send an email purporting to be from the law firm informing the client that the house purchase monies are now ready to be transferred, complete with a set of bank details.

The unsuspecting client will then send the money to the fraudster’s account and will receive a seemingly official confirmation receipt. The fraudster will then empty the bank account and flee with the cash.

To help combat this type of fraud, the cybersecurity regulator Action Fraud has reminded solicitors to take proactive action in helping their clients spot this type of fraud as it is happening.

This may include adding a warning notification to the bottom of email signatures, outlining the threat of Friday Afternoon Fraud, as well as informing clients of the fraud in person during the initial meeting.

Law firms have also been advised to review their cybersecurity systems, such as their WiFi security and antivirus software.

And if the fraud has already been carried out, Action Fraud advises victims to “contact their bank as soon as they become aware that they’ve been tricked and ask them to contact the receiving bank and freeze the account.”

For more information on Friday afternoon fraud, click here.

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About our Legal team
With Mark Sharpley, executive committee member of the UK200 Legal Group, and fellow partner Nicki Shipley and our consultant Jeremy Allison at the helm of an experienced team of legal finance specialists, the Smailes Goldie Group is well positioned to offer tax and accounting advice to solicitors. Whether you are a sole practitioner or a multi-partner firm, the Smailes Goldie group has the expertise and understanding of all financial matters relating to the legal profession, including: compliance services, Solicitors’ Accounts Rule audits, preparing annual accounts, tax advice for both firms and/or partners, and advising on LLP status. For more information on any of the issues covered in this bulletin, please contact Mark Sharpley at marksharpley@smailesgoldie.co.uk.

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