Online estate agency Tepilo looks at why cyber-security and vigilance is very important when it comes to house purchases.
When you’re purchasing a new home – especially if it’s your first one – there is a desire to show this off to the world. Or, more specifically, to share the happy news with friends and family, often via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
However, there is a word of warning from a law firm, Dezrezlegal, about the possible dangers of promoting your imminent house purchase too widely. Like baby snaps, holiday pics and news of an engagement or a new job, there is a temptation to share information about your upcoming property buy. But Dezrez says buyers must be careful about who they share the news with.
Unfortunately, the conveyancing firm warns, sharing the news of your dream home with friends and family could act as a golden ticket to fraudsters, who scour social media profiles to see who is close to completing on house purchases. Using this info, they can work out who might be about to transfer a deposit and email the buyer posing as their solicitor, offering fake details about where to send the money to.
“Everyone involved in the chain is left with a nightmare as a legal battle begins about how - and even if - that money can be claimed back,” Dezrezlegal says.
As highlighted by the recent cyberattacks around the globe – which targeted institutions such as the NHS and companies such as Nissan – the reach that online fraudsters have is widening and their methods increasingly sophisticated. While the fightback from tech firms, governments and cyber-security experts has begun, it pays to be aware of the dangers and particularly vigilant when it comes to major transactions.
Conveyancing cybercrime, for example, has become more common in recent years, with fraudsters setting up fake duplicate Facebook accounts to try and trick people into accepting friend requests. This, in turn, allows the fraudsters to spy more easily.
It’s also important to be aware of fraudulent email schemes, with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) predicting that half of all cybercrime involves the theft of conveyancing funds through email scams. Last year £7 million was stolen this way.
What’s more, there is a clear pattern to this crime. In fact, it even has its own name: ‘Friday afternoon’ fraud. Rather than spending Friday afternoons looking forward to the weekend and making plans, unscrupulous fraudsters spend their time hacking into buyers’ emails and pretending to be their solicitor with details of where to send deposits to.
The main reason for ‘Friday afternoon’ fraud is the greater number of completions made on a Friday, with buyers eager to be in their new home by the weekend. According to the SRA, this increased activity also gives criminals more scope to transfer funds without anyone spotting it.
There are things, though, that can be done to legislate against fraud and allow buyers to protect themselves. You may want to be wary about how much information you post, and to whom, on your social media accounts. While censoring yourself is not necessary, it may be best to wait until after the transaction has completed before announcing your new home to the world. Once you have settled in to your new abode may be the time to make it public, rather than before the deal has been fully completed.
Dezrezlegal also advises that it’s never wise to trust an email asking you to change details of where you are sending your deposit to. This is a tell-tale sign of possible fraud. If you’re not 100% sure, speak to your conveyancer in person to ensure the email has definitely come from them. If an email – or the contents of the email – makes you suspicious, take no action and instead give your conveyancer a call.
Use a number you have previously contacted your conveyancer on to give yourself peace of mind. And, if possible, speak to the same person you’ve been in dialogue with before. If there has been any change in circumstances, the conveyancer will be able to confirm these to you.
Take Five to Stop Fraud, an awareness campaign led by Financial Fraud Action UK Ltd (FFA UK), fraud protection service Cifas and the City of London police, offers some top tips on how to prevent fraud or stop it in its tracks. They ask people to consider whether a situation is genuine, to not act in haste and to stop and think if what they are being told really makes sense.
They offer five straightforward ‘Stop and Think’ tips: never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password; don’t assume an email, text or phone call is authentic – in fact, it’s probably best to start from a position of scepticism; don’t be rushed into making a decision – remember, any reputable, genuine organisation won’t mind waiting; listen to your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, you’ll know, and it’s time to take a step back; and finally stay in control – don’t panic or make an impulsive decision you’ll later regret.
These are general tips on avoiding fraud, but offer good advice for any major financial transaction. Take your time, make sure you know who you’re sending things to, make sure things are authentic, and don’t make any rash decisions.
It’s important to get a sense of perspective here, too. While cybercrime is a problem when it comes to conveyancing, the vast, vast majority of deals will go through without a hitch. Conveyancing firms, banks, lenders and estate agents have stringent security measures in place to prevent cybercrime from taking place, while vigilance and careful steps from buyers also massively reduces the risk.
It’s not something you should be obsessing over, but it’s important to not put yourself in any danger. Taking sensible, pragmatic steps will massively help towards this.