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11 July 2016

Fraudsters hacking into emails to divert house purchase payments

ActionFraud warning

Action Fraud is continuing to receive reports where parties’ involved in house purchases are targeted to transfer money to bank accounts under the control of fraudsters, resulting in large losses for house buyers or solicitors.

“Conveyancing fraud” is committed by criminals who hack into the email chains between sellers and buyers and their solicitors and estate agents.

Waiting for the right time (usually on the day of sale completion) fraudsters send a spoofed or mimicked email informing the parties that bank account details have changed at the last minute and that money should be put into a different account.

The purchaser then transfers the sum of money into the new bank account, which is controlled by the fraudster, leaving the solicitor or client at a substantial financial loss.

As fraudsters monitor previous communications, they can make emails appear identical and delete real ones from accounts.

Protection advice

This is a really clever social engineering trick and can be difficult to spot. Luckily there are ways to protect it from happening to you:

1. Do not feel pressured into changing any bank details. If you receive an email stating a change in the bank details don’t be afraid to question its authenticity. Check the email address carefully and if in doubt phone to check the information is correct.

2. Buyers and sellers should avoid using public Wi-Fi systems to check emails when house purchases are being made. Fraudsters can easily hack into vulnerable Wi-Fi systems.

3. Avoid posting statuses on social media about buying/selling your house or getting a mortgage. Fraudsters may get hold of this information and know the next step is a large financial transaction.

4. Make sure you have strong passwords for your accounts and have anti-virus installed on your devices. To create a strong password, simply choose three random words. Numbers and symbols can still be used if needed.

5. Review internal procedures regarding how clients are permitted to amend the bank details held for them.

6. At the start of the conveyancing process agree the terms to which any changes in bank details will occur, such as in person.

To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.