Purchasing your first property is never cheap and with the transfer of large sums of money between solicitors’ firms, how can you guarantee the safety of your hard-earned cash? A recent scam has emphasised how important it is for clear communication between firms and their clients to ensure that their money is secure at all times and reaches the desired destination We at Browns Solicitors feel that this cannot be emphasised enough.

HM was in the process of purchasing his first property, using his life savings of £67,000. It is standard practice in conveyancing to ask for large amounts of money to be paid into a firm account; for example a cash deposit, or the funds to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax. The firm asked for an initial sum of £45,000 which HM paid in to their legitimate bank account; proof of receipt was given.  When HM paid this initial sum of money, his bank told him that funds paid online would take 3 days to clear. HM realised that as he was away on holiday, he would need to pay the remaining monies online before he went. He sent an email to his solicitor asking the best way to transfer monies to ensure they arrived in time for completion.. He received an email in response to his query. He thought that this came from his solicitor. The email stated that the firm’s usual bank account could not receive Chaps or Bacs payments and so he would need to transfer funds to an alternative bank account. HM did not question this as the email had come from his solicitor’s exact email address.

HM transferred £42,000 the day after receiving the above email, 30th September 2016, to the alternative bank account. He received an email which he thought was from his solicitor’s firm confirming receipt of this transfer. A day later he transferred £25,000  into the same account. . This left £7,837 to be provided as the remaining balance of funds. HM received an email, which he thought was from his solicitor’s firm, stating that, for transfers of less than £10,000, another bank account was to be used. Once again, considering the email came from the exact email of the firm he was using, HM did not question this and transferred the money.

It was four days after the transaction of £42,000 that he realised something was wrong. From the same email that offered these alternative bank accounts, HM received a message stating that no money after the initial £45,000 had been received by the firm. It later transpired that the firm’s email account had been hacked and the message suggesting an alternative bank account, and acknowledging receipt of each transfer, had been sent by the hackers and diverted away from the firm. Both HM and his solicitors accuse the other of being at fault in this situation; HM argues that the firm’s  security was not rigorous enough, enabling emails to be hacked, and HM’s solicitors argue that it was HM’s “own careless actions that led to his loss”.

Unfortunately, HM has been unable to recover any of the £67,000 transferred into the original bank account. However, as a small silver lining in an otherwise dire situation, the £7,837 had thankfully been frozen by his bank and was returned to him.

Here at Browns we want to reassure our clients that the safety of their money is of the highest concern to us and we are taking every step to ensure that their funds are secure. We clearly state on our email signatures that our bank account details will not change throughout the course of any matter and that we strongly recommend any client to contact us directly if they are ever advised that our account details have changed or they have any concern of a security breach.