The very nature of a property transaction makes it especially alluring and appealing for those who would wish to get their hands on the, often vast, sums of money involved. Fraudsters have always targeted house purchases, and in these technology-focused days, we might even suggest that the opportunity to be ‘successful’ at this has grown. With a few clicks, a nimble hacker/fraudster could not just infiltrate the email of a potential victim but also, if the security isn’t good enough, the conveyancing firm itself.
For the most part, and sometimes due more to luck than judgement, these frauds are not successful, but anyone who has read the national media over the past couple of years will be keenly aware that the criminals can be successful and, it only needs to happen once, for significant sums of money to be pilfered.
Just recently, you might have read about a case which saw the best part of £600k taken by criminals, all because a customer’s email was hacked and he was convinced his conveyancer’s bank account details had been changed. Having done this he sent the money across to the different account number, which just so happened to be Ulster Bank, and well… you can imagine the rest. This case was first reported in The Daily Telegraph who said it was the biggest property fraud of its type it had come across. No doubt, the gentleman at the centre of this crime is absolutely distraught and, apparently, questioning if he’ll ever get any of his money back.
Without knowing the full details of such a case, one can’t help wondering if there was a mortgage adviser involved, and whether there was any recommendation made in terms of the conveyancing firm used. I’m not for one minute suggesting the conveyancing firm involved is in anyway culpable, but one does wonder whether an extra pair of eyes and ears, and the provision of plenty of information in terms of the potential for fraud in such a transaction, might not have gone amiss.
Clearly, in certain cases, the fraud might well have happened anyway, but I do believe there is a major role for advisers to play here, not just in terms of product/conveyancing firm advice, but being in the right place at the right time and perhaps even providing a sounding board for those customers who might not be too au fait with the conveyancing process. Even homeowners who may have gone through the buying and selling process a number of times, might still be caught out, and what about first-time buyers who will not have done anything like this. Unfortunately, this ‘stuff’ does not get taught at school or college or university and lots of people feel like they are flying blind.
Advisers do find themselves in a unique position here and the ability to hold clients’ hands through this is what you would do anyway, certainly when it comes to the mortgage. Why wouldn’t you extend the service to conveyancing? Having that access allows you to tell a client to send a small amount of money to the conveyancer’s bank account first up, in order to check it’s the right one, before then forwarding on the balance. It seems like such a common sense approach to take, and certainly in the case of the £600k fraud it could have made all the difference.
In these cases, what seems like an obvious attempt at fraud in hindsight can get lost in the maelstrom, and excitement, of customers thinking they’re exchanging/completing on their ‘dream’ property. Too often they are too quick to believe everything they read, and indeed the popularity of social media – and people’s willingness to post all manner of information – opens them up to such attacks. An adviser’s involvement could impart the information and knowledge that saves a customer from both themselves and the criminals – it’s an important part of what we do and shouldn’t be under-estimated. Make sure you involve yourself in it.
Harpal Singh is managing director of Broker Conveyancing