Back to the futurePosted on: 24 August 2015 by Steve Wanless
Fraudsters are constantly devising ingenious scams using sophisticated technology to deprive you of some or all of your money. Steve Wanless presents tips for protecting yourself.
Very little of our life doesn’t involve some form of financial participation, whether it’s work, rest or play. Nothing much is free anymore; even water is more expensive than milk these days in a supermarket.
There’s an old saying “where there’s muck, there’s brass (money)” – nowadays, a more appropriate phrase might be “where’s there’s brass, there’s a scam!”
Whatever we are buying – holidays, houses, pensions, household items or items over the internet or mobile – there seems to be scammers lurking with criminal intent and sophisticated technology to deprive you of some or all of the money intended for the purchase.
The more protection banks and websites introduce, the more outrageous and ingenious the scams.
There are few transactions more ponderous and time-consuming than property purchase. If you are lucky enough to find a house, then there’s the survey, the mortgage affordability process and, once you’ve got your offer, there’s exchange and, generally, a few weeks later completion.
How could the fraudsters possibly find a way of diverting your money away from its target with so many legal and professional experts milling around and not be noticed?
That is exactly what has been happening to homebuyers on the very day of completion.
Their solicitors will receive an email either confirming the bank account details for the proceeds of the purchase or asking them to send those proceeds to a different bank account. These emails will appear to come from the email account the solicitor has been dealing with throughout the previous weeks and months.
But those emails have come from the scammers, cybercriminals who are much more computer literate than most. They use technology that analyses millions of emails, extracting sensitive and private financial information.
The technology not only allows them access to our financial secrets, but enables them to pretend to send emails as though from the original recipient!
Because of the property boom, large sums of money are then transferred to the scammers’ accounts. One couple recently lost £62,000 out of the £333,000 proceeds of the sale of their home.
Another couple did recover the £270,000 that was sent by their solicitor to their NatWest account on the instructions of the wife. They only found out ten days later when the solicitor rang them regarding a problem with that NatWest account – a bank they had no dealings with!
I must confess that if I was expecting over £1/4m to hit my bank account, I would probably check it had arrived within 24 hours.
It also seems strange that the legal profession would not double-check if someone changes their bank details on the day of completion, but we have come to trust emails with our lives!
If we recognise the sender, and it’s a familiar email address, and it’s not asking directly for money (i.e. our family are stuck in Bangkok, please send £2,000), we assume it must be genuine. Not anymore.
The solution up to now has been more technology, better computer protection, more safeguards – but it appears that we are fighting a losing battle if all the stories of hacking, whether by state, or organisation or scammer, are to be believed.
It’s the technology that is giving the scammers power, so why go further down that road!
Remember those “red warning” letters from insurance companies informing you that the endowment that was going to clear your mortgage loan was not now going produce the lump sum predicted at the start of the policy.
There was going to be a shortfall, so the insurance company suggested the best way of restoring your fortunes was to pay even more money into the policy. Or, as those who were sceptical about this advice saw it, this policy is failing to deliver, so plough more into it!
The role of the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) is even more critical at times like that. There is a golden rule that applies to finance as much as anything else – “When you are in hole, stop digging!”
Chasing losses, or lost causes, can be folly; but cashing in existing investments can also be counter-productive, especially when there is a terminal bonus, as with those endowment policies.
One way round the house-purchase scammers is to get yourself an encrypted email. That requires a password to be opened. There are several options, but you get the feeling that the scammers are already investigating a way of getting around that one.
Some lawyers, and those with good memories, have come up with a simple solution to solve the problem of email hacking where big financial transactions are involved…THE FAX MACHINE! Remember those?
Such is the passing of time that the Times newspaper felt the need to explain that a fax (short for facsimile) machine was basically a photocopier attached to a phone line. After dialling and a confirmation signal, a copy of the document would be produced at the other end. So simple and secure.
It was an essential part of business life in the 80s and 90s, but the end was swift with scanners, pdfs and computers taking over and the “fax” became obsolete. Now it appears as if the scammers have given it a new life!
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