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Lawyers and clients warned to be careful with emailed instructions

10 October 2014

The New Zealand Law Society is warning lawyers and clients of lawyers to be extremely careful with taking and issuing instructions by email.

This follows recent instances where a law firm or client’s email system has been hacked and false instructions issued by the hackers.

New Zealand Law Society Financial Assurance Manager Jeremy Kennerley says it is very important for lawyers not to rely on a single emailed instruction.

“If a lawyer receives a client email asking them to carry out a transaction, our advice is for the lawyer to try and have a direct phone conversation with the client to confirm the instruction. This could be by phone or by Skype, especially if the lawyer knows the client.”

He says the clients of lawyers should also take care as there have been instances where law firm email systems have been taken over by criminals.

“If a client is not going to be easily contactable by phone but wants to issue instructions, another suggestion is to agree on a ‘safe’ or ‘code’ word or phrase which can be used in the email to verify identity and authenticity.”

Mr Kennerley says the Law Society’s advice to lawyers and clients communicating with them is that they should assume the emails they receive may not be genuine, unless they are using an encrypted system.

However, even encrypted email is only as safe as the password used, he says.

“Any suspected breach or suspicious email should be reported to the Police, and lawyers should also advise the Law Society.”

Last updated on the 17th March 2016