Sadly, there is increasingly a risk that at some stage during the purchase or sale, fraudsters may try to hack into your email correspondence, hoping to create fraudulent emails based on previous correspondence and thereby persuade you to transfer significant funds (such as completion monies) to the fraudster’s bank account. The following steps can help to stop you becoming a victim of this sort of cyber crime:
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- Ensure that all your internet access (laptop, i-pad, mobile phone) is protected by security software and keep it updated. Be careful about using free wifi in public places such as cafes or on transport systems, as it is not always secure.
- Use passwords to protect email and other online accounts, especially on mobile devices which are more easily lost or stolen. Choose passwords that have a “high” security rating (e.g. comprise letters, numbers and symbols), and avoid the same password for multiple accounts. Change your passwords frequently.
- Resist the temptation to update family and friends on your sale/purchase via social media. Even if you have high security settings, others who see and share your post might not. Information could end up in the hands of fraudsters looking for details of lucrative transactions, including property addresses and completion dates.
- If you are instructing solicitors, conveyancers and/or estate agents, do your research to ensure they are reputable. Check they are registered with the relevant professional body. Where possible, follow personal recommendation. Be wary of those who operate only online, without proper business premises, and/or offer exceptionally low fees.
- Avoid communicating sensitive information like bank account details by email, as it could be intercepted by hackers. Do so in person, by secure letter, or by telephone if you know the person you are talking to. If someone you do not recognise calls to discuss the transaction, tell them you will call back, then check if they are genuine (e.g. by phoning the organisation they claim to be from).
- Learn how to recognise fraudulent emails:
a. A business email address usually incorporates the business name. Be suspicious of emails from free email account providers like hotmail, gmail, yahoo.
b. Be wary of emails that urge you to take immediate action and warn of negative consequences if you do not, such as the sale falling through.
c. Be wary of emails that ask you to do something like click on a link or enter information, as doing this may enable the fraudster to access your email account.
d. Look out for poor spelling and grammar which may indicate a fraudulent email.
- Beware of instructions you receive to change bank account or payment details. In one case, fraudsters posing as solicitors acting in a transaction stole funds by claiming that their main bank account was being audited, and completion monies should be sent to a new account.
- If you become suspicious that you may be the target of cyber criminals, alert those acting for you in the transaction and on the other side. If there is no innocent explanation for the suspicious behaviour, contact the police.