Taking the fight to the fraudsters

In all the pre-Christmas excitement you might have missed the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) Annual Regulatory Return (ARR), which was completed by all 212 firms that were regulated by the CLC during the full 2017-18 period.

However, it makes interesting reading, particularly with regard to the experience of conveyancing firms in combating potential fraudulent activity, whether that be of the cyber variety or more common-and-garden attempts. Given the large sums of money involved in the process, it’s no surprise that fraudsters and criminals feel it’s a sector worth attacking, and I’m sure we’re all aware of those rare, high-profile ‘successes’ which have meant considerable sums of money have been stolen from clients and firms.

Clearly, firms want to do everything in their power to stop such fraud, and it’s instructive to review the CLC’s ARR which revealed that 37 – of those 212 – firms had ‘repelled fraudulent attacks’ during that period however 11 also revealed they had been the victims of fraud.

The fight against fraud is a very real one for all our member firms and again it’s positive to note that all CLC-regulated firms provided staff training on anti-fraud measures, especially focusing on key staff that may be firmly in the fraudsters’ cross-hairs.

At last month’s set of meetings in the Tower of London we gave a significant amount of time to a panel session on fraud, particularly Cyber Fraud, and this is part of our own workstreams to support member firms in the fight.

As expected, our panel were at pains to highlight just how much of a target conveyancing firms are, given the amount of money involved but also the large amounts of information and data carried and handled by firms.

In our own recently updated Cyber Fraud & Fraud Protocol, which is designed to help firms and deter criminals, we outline the types of fraud that are most prevalent in the sector, and it was interesting to hear our panel citing these. Activity such as phishing – sending email with fraudulent links; the creation of email domains that match those of conveyancing firm staff with emails then sent asking for money to be redirected; or the hacking of firms’ entire email systems in order to do similar, are clear threats that need to be countered.

The positive however was that, instances of such fraud being completed, are well down on previous years, because firms take the threat seriously and they are particularly strong at combating, what we might call, unsophisticated attempts. These would be in the vein of clients being sent emails with different bank account details, asking for money to be sent to them instead of the details the client may already have.

It sounds like such a simple request, but if the client knows that on no account should they do this, then that it is clearly going to stop such fraud. We did learn at the panel that more sophisticated attacks are growing, but again it was pleasing to hear how those threats can be tackled head on, and the business practices and – very importantly – technology which can be utilised in order to do this.

There are some very basic, common sense practices that are very easy to introduce, and I am sure are already in place across the vast majority of firms. Certainly, our own focus on providing firms with a Protocol which contains regular updated information on this area will not change, because let’s be frank here, the threat to member firms is not going to change either.

Having a high level of vigilance, ensuring all staff are aware of the threats, educating clients not to get caught out by unsophisticated attempts to secure their money, are continually required, and I’m pleased to see our members taking their responsibilities in this area incredibly seriously. One successful fraud is one too many, given the pain, stress and suffering it would have – particularly if it is perpetrated on a client. We will continue to work with fraud and cyber fraud experts to help firms see off this threat and to ensure every business works to the highest levels when it comes to tackling fraud.

Paul Smee is Non-Executive Chair of the Conveyancing Association (CA)




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