Residential conveyancing is an area of law which is a common target for fraudsters setting up a bogus law firm.
A bogus firm is a firm who is not regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and pretends to be entitled to provide reserved legal activities or call themselves solicitors. This is a criminal offence and the reports of such incidents being reported are rising.
In order to appear to be a regulated firm, the fraudsters may steal the identity of a genuine law firm or a solicitor, in some cases cloning the firm’s website or setting up a counterfeit branch for that firm or invent a fictitious firm or pose as a solicitor.
The lengths the fraudsters will go to appear legitimate is endless and they can appear very convincing with authentic looking websites. Sometimes it is only the smallest detail which can give them away. An example of this is the setting up of an email address which appears very similar to a genuine law firm and has the slightest addition of comma or hyphen to the email address.
The main risk to the individual of instructing a bogus law firm is the loss of money which could be the loss of fees paid, deposit monies or in some cases the full purchase/sale monies for a house or even the loss of confidential information e.g. bank details.
Another consequence is receiving poor advice or incorrect representation. Whereas a genuine regulated firm has a duty to protect the client’s money and assets (including personal information). If you are the victim of a fake firm then you are not covered by the same protections that you would be as if you were dealing with a genuine firm such as the Legal Ombudsman to deal with any complaint or the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund.
As an individual, you can trust that we have done all the steps to ensure that we are dealing with a genuine firm on the other side. We ensure we always check the firm is recorded on the Law Society website or the Licensed Conveyancers Website and the office we are corresponding with is listed there.
Throughout any transactions, we are always aware of any ‘red flags’ that we may not be dealing with a regulated firm e.g. poor spelling or terminology in emails, a change of the solicitor’s bank details from what has been initially provided, firms using only mobile numbers. We will always request that other side’s solicitor's bank details be faxed to us, as emails are more easily intercepted by fraudsters and we also telephone the number stated on their letterhead to double check these details are correct.
As an individual you can check the Law Society or Licensed Conveyancer website yourself before deciding who to instruct, it can also be useful for locating a firm with a location convenient to you.
The key is to be vigilant that there are fraudsters out and always make sure you are instructing a regulated solicitor.