People both buying and selling homes are vulnerable to the fraud — which involves faking emails to trick people into sending funds to the hackers’ bank accounts.
There have been nearly 100 incidents recorded, according to data seen by the paper, bringing in more than £10 million for the criminals responsible.
Here’s how it works:
- First, the hacker gains access to the emails being sent between an estate agent and a prospective buyer or seller.
- They don’t do anything — yet.
- If a house buyer is being targeted, the hacker will send an email pretending to be the estate agent as the deal is being finalised. The email will tell them that the agent’s bank details have been changed, and will provide a new account for the buyer to send funds to.
- None the wiser, the buyer sends their deposit (or perhaps even the complete funds, if they’re paying in cash) over to the hacker’s account.
- If it’s a seller being targeted, the hacker will email the estate agent or lawyers involved pretending to be the seller, again claiming that their bank details have changed and will provide a new account to send the funds to.
- If the fraud goes undetected, the estate agent/lawyer sends over the cash to the criminal.
- Typically, the money is long gone by the time the buyer and estate agent realises what has happened.
Who’s behind it? The Telegraph reports the police’s searches are coming up empty, but they suspect “crime syndicates abroad.” According to data from October 2015, there were two incidents every week, making an average of £112,000 each time.
There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk, like enabling two-factor authentication to prevent third parties gaining access to your email, or not opening suspicious email attachments to avoid being infected with malware. But if it is your estate agent or lawyer that is targeted, it’s out of your control.
The key thing is to double check any changes at the last minute. If your estate agent is suddenly switching accounts, that should raise flags — call them for confirmation before sending anything. And if you don’t think you’ll change your bank details mid-way through the sale, tell your lawyer/estate agent. That way they’ll know something is up if they receive an email from “you” asking to switch.