Beware of online fraud when buying or selling property

October 26, 2021Categories: Selling, Buying
Looking at a phone

After going through the house buying process you could be forgiven, in all the excitement, for rushing through the transfer of your house deposit or payment balance to your solicitor without giving a thought as to whether everything is, as it should be - after all you’ve probably been dealing with your solicitor for weeks and it should be fine. Yet is it?

That’s the question that Your Move is urging any property buyer (or seller) to now consider as the Law Society – in conjunction with the National Crime Agency, Action Fraud and the National Economic Crime Centre – issues guidance (*) to warn those in the house buying process about payment diversion fraud – especially when buying a property.  

What is Payment Diversion Fraud?

As the name suggests it leads criminals to divert electronic financial payments to their own bank accounts and prevents them from being received by the intended recipient i.e. a solicitor.  In the case of a property purchase this can be classed as Conveyancing Fraud and usually involves the criminal diversion of the deposit payment or the balance of the purchase price of the property; which could obviously be a very high amount.

How do criminals do this? 

By using sophisticated techniques fraudsters intercept online correspondence between the buyer and their legal representatives and then, by setting up spoof emails accounts and letterheads, trick property buyers into believing they are dealing direct with their solicitor.

Information about the property purchase, its price and who is involved in the transaction is easily gained and used by the criminals to deceive buyers into making payments to them.

What can you do to prevent Payment Diversion Fraud?

Remain vigilant and follow the recent guidance issued. (*) This provides comprehensive advice to property buyers including, for example, calling your solicitor – or known contact - before transferring any payment to ensure that they have requested it and to double check the payment details.

Any change of payment details or instruction, particularly at the last minute, should also be questioned via a phone call to your solicitor. Avoid sending emails to question this as there is a risk that these could be intercepted or diverted. If in doubt, don’t make the transfer and remember the principle to check twice – pay once. At Your Move we will always be happy to verify that a payment to us, or via us, is genuine

What if I am a victim of Payment Diversion Fraud when buying a property?

  • Advise your bank of the fraudulent activity and ask them to contact the receiving bank to freeze the funds.
  • Advise your solicitors - and estate agent – to prevent other clients being targeted.
  • Contact Action Fraud ( the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime) via their website or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you live in Scotland, however, contact the Police via 101.     

Further help from Your Move                                                     

Your Move has a special ‘Your Security’ section on its website which provides information and guidance on keeping safe online as well as when buying a service or product from Your Move – and this doesn’t just cover residential sales but also lettings too. It’s well worth a read.

(*) The guidance re Payment Diversion Fraud: Conveyancing can be found on the Law Society website here