Law firms should search the Internet regularly to ensure their identities have not been “cloned” by fraudsters, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has advised.
The SRA issued the warning after recent fraudulent activity where bona fide firms and solicitors have had their identities cloned by criminals, particularly operating advance-fee frauds.
Last year there was considerable publicity around a case where a family claimed to have been conned out of nearly £750,000 after fraudsters set up a bogus law firm to sell a property that was in the process of being repossessed.
The SRA said that in some cases, an exact copy of a firm’s name and website is used. Only the contact details are changed – usually to an address and telephone number abroad. In other cases, the name of the firm has been very slightly changed.
“At first sight, the fake website appears to be genuine. Sometimes, the difference from the genuine website is simply a missing letter or punctuation mark in the firm’s name,” it said.
The cloned websites are used in scams, usually originating from overseas, in which individuals are asked to send money in advance. The criminals provide their targets with details of the cloned solicitor or firm, with false contact details. The involvement of a “solicitor” lends credibility to the transaction. Often, targets are asked to send money to the solicitor’s false contact details.
The SRA said: “We work closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies to stop the activity of those involved. But it is important that all solicitors’ firms, no matter how small, are alert to this type of criminal activity as it can damage credibility and can be difficult to rectify. We recommend that you regularly search for your own firm name on the Internet.”
Solicitors should report any concerns as soon as possible to the SRA’s fraud and confidential intelligence bureau (firstname.lastname@example.org), local police, and the national Action Fraud hotline (call 0300 123 2040).