Please Note: This Article is 6 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.

Seems we live in an era of virtual reality where things are frequently not what they seem.

We are bombarded daily by nuisance telephone calls of varying degrees of integrity; from those with a legitimate services to offer, to those that are intended to suck you into an outright fraud scam: PPI, boiler service, Dyson servicing, Microsoft calling, banking and boiler room share dealing scams, they are all part of this rainbow of telephone and e-mail contacts which not only waste your valuable time, they have the potential to cost you a fortune.

The era of technology and the Internet is wonderful and has opened up a world of personal convenience and business opportunity, but unfortunately, there’s the dark side to this, the opportunities it gives those with criminal intent, costing the UK economy £millions each year.

Many consumers with varying degrees of “tech savviness” now access services online and it is becoming common practice to utilise services, never having had a face-to-face meeting with a supplier. The old and the “tech novices” are particularly vulnerable, but even experienced IT specialists are being caught out, as new and sophistication frauds are tried out.

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In the case of solicitor fraud it is all too easy for criminals and criminal gangs to set up bogus law firms or bogus branches of genuine law firms, with very often, the intention of stealing mortgage loans. Websites are easily set up which look incredibly plausible, with reassuring statements of efficiency and proprietary, genuine looking photos of staff members, convincing contact details and web addresses,

The Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the police are increasingly concerned about these activities where genuine firms of solicitors are being compromised and taken in by these fraudsters.

Landlords and anyone who has financial dealings are vulnerable to this sort of thing and need to be extremely vigilant when dealing with any firm, company or individual they do not have prior knowledge of. Finding yourself the subject of a bogus solicitor can have a dramatic and devastating effect on your wealth, if not your health as well.

Mary Kaye president of Birmingham Law Society has said:

“The public need to be aware that gangs who are purely criminals are not a part of the legal profession, so there may be little that the Solicitors Regulation Authority can do to assist. This will then be a criminal matter and subject to police investigation. Solicitors themselves can and have become innocent victims of bogus firms and may find themselves subject to negligence claims though acting on the other side of a transaction to a bogus firm, albeit they may have done everything possible to verify the authenticity of the solicitors in question.”

The main types of fraud:

Claims by lenders against solicitors alleging breach of the reporting requirements of the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) Handbook remain a significant feature of the Master Policy claims experience.
Many of these claims involve mortgage fraud (sometimes also identity fraud) by the borrower.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the body which governs lawyers recorded 701 bogus law firms in 2014, this is more than double the 349 figure in 2012.

Dodgy investment and property companies generally can’t get their scams past real solicitors, but by having a fake “lawyer” it means they can convince victims that land or buildings they have supposedly purchased have been legally transferred to them.

These fraudsters rely on the fact that few who have been conned took the trouble to check, especially when they believed they were getting big risk-free returns. Bogus solicitors work in cahoots with fraudulent estate agents, who may even by one and the same, who claim to represent the seller of a home.

These advertise and ‘sell’ properties, extracting money from buyers who believe they are dealing with a legitimate solicitor, working on the conveyancing on the other side of the deal. They will than disappear completely, leaving the victims with no redress. This is even easier to pull off now that many property transactions are conducted online by specialist conveyancing firms.

Whilst most of these firms are genuine and provide a low cost and efficient service, the lack of traditional face-to-face contact with a solicitor you know and trust makes it easier to pull off these frauds.

Self-Protection Measures:

  • Check paperwork you receive against websites
  • Pay particular attention to domain names and URLs
  • Check out the owners / registrants of websites with Nominet and Whois
  • Check e-mail addresses and where they come from: genuine firms do no use Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail accounts
  • Check out phone numbers and postal addresses
  • Do company checks with Companies House and with a good credit referencing agency
  • Likewise check out individual directors
  • Fix up a face to face meeting at their offices – any refusal should ring alarm bells
  • Keep yourself up-to-date on alerts about frauds and scams.

It is a criminal offence for someone to call themselves a solicitor, but few bogus ones are ever caught. A genuine solicitor will give you their Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) ID roll number on request. The ID number should appear on their letterheads and notepaper.

The Law Society of England has a “Find a Solicitor” facility on its online directory of solicitors, though unfortunately not all genuine solicitors are listed. Fraudsters know all this and will exploit these loopholes.

In all financial dealings the old adage is true: if it looks too good to be true it almost invariably is. Most people taken in by financial related fraud do so because of their own greed or desperation to make money.  

These fraudsters are very adept at telling people what they want to hear, and when people are vulnerable to this, they are taken in hook, line and sinker!

Please Note: This Article is 6 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.
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