Identity fraud is something that we have all become aware of in recent years. The digital age has resulted in many sophisticated scams by organised criminals. Many of us will have received emails pretending that they are from our bank or even the tax office asking for us to send our bank details. It goes without saying that nobody should ever volunteer their details in response to something like that.
But a recent development has been the creation of bogus law firms. They are either completely fake or they steal the details of an existing firm. The website of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) currently has five warnings posted -
The aim of the fraud is to get you to send money to the ‘firm’ which you may never see again.
In one case in 2010 a couple handed over £800,000 to criminals posing as a solicitors' practice in relation to a house purhcase.
This is a concern for consumers but also for all genuine lawyers who find themselves the innocent victims and may often need to pick up the pieces.
So what can you do to ensure that your lawyer is genuine? Well if you have a longstanding relationship with a solicitor you trust then you should be able to rely on that. But if, for example, you receive a call or a letter from a solicitor that you have never heard of then you should be concerned. So you may get an email saying that you have been left a huge sum in a will but asking you to send money on account of charges. That is almost certainly not genuine and you should never hand a penny over if that happens.
All Solicitors are regulated by the SRA and have a registration number. This should appear on all communications including emails and on their website. So if there is no number you should be concerned.
The number could be fake. The Law Society has a very useful Find A Solicitor search which is very easy to use and has the details of all solicitors and firms in England and Wales –
If the solicitor isn’t on there then there is a problem. None of these are foolproof and the criminals in the 2010 case seem to have slipped through those nets and all solicitors are now advised to be extremely vigilant.
Other more subtle clues might be a general email address. Most genuine firms would not have a Gmail or hotmail address. The same goes for telephone numbers. If all you get is a mobile number then be careful!
If you have a concern and you are in England and Wales you should contact the SRA whose details are on their site. If you are outside this area should still be cautious and contact your local regulator via google or even contacting another lawyer.