March 4 saw the airing of Radio 4 consumer programme ‘You and Yours’, covering current affairs for the consumer, the headline topic was that of the ‘Fake Solicitor’.
The programme revealed that as an industry scam alerts and reports of fraudsters have doubled in 2014 from the previous year. SRA Chief Executive Paul Phillip commented that this was “not completely surprising” as the industry’s awareness has risen which reflects the increase to a certain extent.
The question is whether or not the industry is doing anything actively to manage and mitigate this risk, indeed the ‘victim’ buyer that the programme highlighted was Mohammed Imran Norgat who lost over a hundred thousand in 2013. Over a year had passed following the SRA release of this Warning Notice  , however, a check was not made to identify whether or not the account number provided was bona fide.
The segment within the radio show concentrated on how Mr Norgat was buying a flat in London with money borrowed from family and friends in order to be mortgage free; “It was truly shocking…..the full purchase funds, exactly £175,000….the sinking realisation that it was all gone and that we are now in debt with nothing to show for it.”
‘Noel G Edwards’ was the vendor conveyancer who had been innocently instructed by the seller; he had appeared genuine. He only communicated through e-mails, but he was listed on the Law Society’s Find A Solicitor website.
Indeed on inspection of the FAS site there is a Noel Gareth Edwards listed, however he had nothing to do with any of this particular transaction.
The real Noel Edwards is based on the Wirral in Cheshire and goes by his middle name Gareth. Mr Edwards found out that his identity had been stolen when he received an ‘update’ email from the SRA.
“Regulated by the SRA, I have an account where any changes are notified by an automatic email from them. I receive an email out of the blue telling me that my password had been changed. I knew I hadn’t done it……. I therefore rang the regulator and told them that this wasn’t me and that something appeared to have happened.
It turned out that my details had been changed; my email address had been changed to an address I had no knowledge of whatsoever. They used my employers’ name to create a bogus firm of solicitors, with it looking like I was the solicitor running it.
I googled the name and found a website! I immediately went back to the regulator and told them what I had found. The website was taken down that day.”
Some weeks later, Mr Edwards started to get calls from third parties within the conveyancing transaction asking for payments owed. The effect that this theft can have is eloquently put by this victim conveyancer; “It caused me some anxiety and worry; nothing like the problem for me as it was for the poor chap on the receiving end of the fraud. It is upsetting however to think that someone has used what, I like to think, is my professional good name to con somebody out of a large amount of money.”
Fortunately the Norgats were able to reach a settlement with their own genuine solicitor. The details of this are confidential, but the firm used its own insurance to pay out.
There are many things to note here; PII premiums undoubtedly go up in these kind of cases, the Norgats solicitor whilst able to get the repayment from their insurers in this instance, may have found themselves unstuck had the amount been larger. By ascertaining whether or not an account number provided by the other side has a history of transactional conveyancing, for only £10 + vat, a lot of heartache, worry, money and professional embarrassment can be avoided.
Implementation of Lawyer Checker’s AES (Account and Entity Screen) search provides the purchaser and conveyancer with comprehensive information; allowing for a considered decision to made when sending funds to the recipient conveyancer firm.
Manage, mitigate and identify any risks prior to sending funds and help protect yourself, your firm and your client money against the fraudsters.
To find out more……