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Watch out for fraud using client email

19 December 2017

Reports from New Zealand lawyers and law firms indicate that an email scam targeting Queensland lawyers is likely to have been used here.

The Queensland Law Society says the method of attack varies, but essentially the fraudsters obtain access to a firm's email accounts and use this to misdirect trust money or settlement funds.

"Some thefts have been of money going to the trust account; others involve money incorrectly paid out. Although conveyancing transactions have been hardest hit, any movement of trust funds is at risk," Queensland Law Society President Christine Smyth says.

How the thieves operate

The fraudster emails a law firm expressing interest in using their services. Often they say they are buying a house and are interested in the firm doing the conveyancing.

Emails can go back and forth with more "details" until the fraudsters agree to use the law firm.

They then send a link to supposed important documents the firm will need. The link is protected and personalised for the specific lawyer or firm employee who they have been speaking with and requires them to enter their email address and password to access the documents.

Once the login information has been entered, the fraudsters have the information they need and the matter goes no further.

The frausters monitor the lawyer's email account and watch for information about settlements and payments that need to be made.

When the deadline comes for money to be paid to the firm from the client, the fraudster emails the client, posing as the law firm, and reminds them.

However, they change the bank account details where the money needs to be paid to. The fraudsters give their own desired account instead of the firm's trust account.

Once the transaction is done, the firm and client are left trying to figure out where the money has gone.

New Zealand variations

Variations of the scam which have been used in New Zealand are fake internal emails seeking international money transfers and the hijacking of property settlement funds.

Last updated on the 19th December 2017