The Increasing Battle Against Computer Hackers and the Dangers Posed to Clients

Over the last few years the legal industry has witnessed an increasing number of clients being subject to cyber attacks and having vast amounts of money stolen from them, which in a number of cases has been irrecoverable.

A recent case saw a newlywed couple lose the £45,000 deposit which they had spent almost a decade saving.

As a result law firms have put in place extra security checks when sending money either to their clients or to third parties to ensure that the monies are being received by the intended person.

Property clients have become the most prone to these criminal offences. A typical example is where a client is selling a property and the solicitor emails the client to ask where the sale proceeds are to be sent. The computer hacker will intercept this email and reply as if they were the client, giving the solicitor their own account details.

A recent case saw a newlywed couple lose the £45,000 deposit which they had spent almost a decade saving. Sarah and Ritchie Tough were buying their first home together and instructed the Leeds based law firm, Advantage Property Lawyers, to assist them with their purchase. The transaction had reached the stage of exchange and the solicitor emailed Sarah with their account details so that Sarah could transfer the deposit of £45,000. A few days later however, before Sarah had the opportunity to transfer the money, she received a further email from Advantage Property Lawyers telling her that the firms usual account was being audited and to send the deposit to a different account at Barclays. Sarah then made the transfer as per the new details and received an email from Advantage Property Lawyers confirming the monies had been received.

Sarah then called up her solicitor only to find that the solicitor had not received the money and advised her that the email had not come from their law firm. Sarah rang Barclays's fraud team immediately who were able to recover £22,000 of the cash, however unfortunately the remainder had been drawn out by the fraudsters that day and had been lost. Barclays would not accept any responsibility for the loss as they claimed to simply be following Sarah's instructions. Advantage Property Lawyers also did not accept responsibility for the loss.

It is therefore important for all clients to speak with their solicitor first before sending any large sums of money as computer experts have warned that in most cases it is impossible to tell whether the emails are genuine or not. Law firms are also putting in place similar protocols whereby all account details are checked via the phone with the recipient before any transfer is made.

For more information please contact Elena Ktori at [email protected]