This year has seen an increase in ‘scams’ relating to bogus law firms. Conveyancing, the legal process of buying or selling a property, is an area that has been particularly targeted.
The increased use of technology and increased use of online conveyancing services is enabling criminals to perpetrate fraud in a way that was not previously possible. Posing as legitimate law firms, they have succeeded in deceiving both solicitors and the public to obtain large sums of money.
The role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority
The Law Society’s webpage ‘Find a Solicitor’ has been considered a trusted source when checking the legitimacy of a firm. However, this webpage cannot guarantee a conclusive substantiation or verification that a firm is legitimate, as bogus law firms have been placed onto this list.
The BBC’s programme ‘Moneybox’ has highlighted a case where a homebuyer lost £735,000 to the criminals who had managed to register themselves on Find a Solicitor.
David Robinson, a solicitor representing these fraud victims, said that “It is unacceptable, in my view, that either a solicitor or a member of the public cannot phone up or email or write to the SRA and get reliable confirmation that X or Y is or is not a solicitor, since it is the SRA who set the criteria and requirements for getting onto the Law Society website.”
This raises the issue of how you can reliably check the credentials of a law firm and ensure that your money is safe.
How do you know that it’s safe to transfer your funds?
There are tell-tale signs that a firm is bogus. For instance, if the only point of contact is an email account or telephone number and there is no registered firm or a physical address, you should be concerned.
In today’s internet world, the more remote you are from the professional ‘advice giver’, the greater the risk. The risk involved in providing your ID and financial details online to unverified firms is great, especially where your home and large sums of money are involved.
There is enough that can go wrong when buying a house at the best of times, so to ensure that your funds are secure, it is always better to use your local solicitor and meet them in person. This helps to confirm their identity and legitimacy, providing you with peace of mind.
Alessandra Sulzer is a member of the Conveyancing team at FM&C Solicitors and may be contacted on +44 (0)1799 526 849 or +44 (0)7462 404 147.