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Email payment fraud

Could you spot a fraudulent email?

Email payment fraud is a growing form of crime. Here we explain what email payment fraud is and what you should look out for.

Fraudsters are scamming individuals and companies out of thousands of pounds by intercepting payment for high-value purchases. If you're sending account details by email, you could be targeted by email payment fraud.

Recently the conveyancing industry has become a victim of this online crime. Homebuyers/sellers and solicitors have lost more than £10m in the last year. Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, says this is an issue that's not going away2. But it isn't just house deposits and property sale proceeds that are under threat. If account details are sent by email, there's a risk your email could be intercepted and your payment instructions revised to redirect funds into the wrong hands. Whether you're transferring a house deposit to a solicitor, or making a payment to a travel agent or builder, it's important to approach emails regarding payment with caution.

How does email payment fraud happen?

Tess Henderson of Clutton Cox Solicitors says the conveyancing industry is increasingly concerned about this growing type of scam. 'Email payment fraud occurs when a fraudster hacks into the email communications between a client and a company,' says Tess. 'The scammer places malware into a computer which will lie dormant until it recognises specific keywords relating to a request for funds or deposit payment.'

This is the stage that fraudsters make their move, she says. 'They'll then contact the client, disguised as the solicitor, informing them that the company's bank details have changed and requesting that they transfer the funds into the 'new' account.'

Edward Powell, director BE Consultancy, provider of the Safe Move Scheme, says this isn't the only way fraudsters are targeting home-movers. 'Fraudsters are listening to emails and building up a timeline of the conveyancing activity. About 3 months into the transaction, they'll contact the buyer by email asking buyers to send the deposit,' says Edward.

'As they've been intercepting the emails, they'll be aware of the template and be able to produce an authentic-looking email,' says Edward. 'The fraudsters will then quickly withdraw the money, usually sending it overseas.'

What should I look out for?

Tess emphasises the unlikelihood of a company changing its bank account details. She says: 'Your solicitor will not send you a last-minute email telling you that bank account details have changed; this should be your first warning sign.'

How can I protect myself?

Talk to the company, Giles Mason of Financial Fraud Action UK reminds us to be wary of any emails discussing payment details, and to double check its legitimacy before sending payment. Giles says: 'Always confirm any requests directly, ideally in person or by the telephone, to ensure the instruction is genuine.'

Use existing contact details

Giles also warns us of the other dangers lurking in fraudulent emails. 'When you're contacting the company you're making the payment to, don't use the contact details from the email you've just received. If the email is fraudulent, then the contact details are likely to be false, too,' says Giles.

All conveyancers regulated by the SRA are reminded of their obligations to keep client money safe through appropriate systems. However, working practices will vary from firm to firm. If you're concerned about the processes in place, discuss this with your conveyancing solicitor.

How Barclays can help

You may hear from us by email from time to time, but there are some things you won't see in your inbox from us. We'll never:

  • Email or text you a link that takes you straight to the Online Banking log-in page
  • Email or text you asking you to verify your account or security details
  • Email, text or call to ask you for your card details, PINs, PINsentry codes or passwords
  • Email you asking you to confirm a recent transaction (we may text or call)
  • Call you to tell you how to respond to a confirmation text message

Want to get familiar with some of the scams out there? Learn more about financial scams and how to avoid them.


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