The run up to Christmas is prime time for scammers to strike and property purchases offer rich pickings for criminals. Stephen Ward has some advice to help you spot the signs of a scam when buying or selling your home
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and with good reason. As one of the fastest growing areas of crime, there is a heightened need to highlight the risk it poses and how people can protect themselves, their data and their money from an attack.
It’s an unfortunate fact that those buying a property are particularly at risk from online scammers and cybercriminals because of the often very large sums of money changing hands.
But with huge companies such as Twitter, JD sports and Three mobile falling victim to cyber crime, how can a house purchaser protect themselves, their data and their money?
The latest scams in action
It’s not just the large sums of money that make property purchases attractive to criminals, the sense of urgency many feel as transactions come close to exchange and completion can also lead people to overlook small details that may indicate a fraudulent telephone call or email.
Particularly at this time of year, with just two months to go until Christmas, many who are in the process of buying or selling will be doing so with a Christmas deadline in mind. Unfortunately, scammers are only too aware of this, and will use it to their advantage.
Action Fraud recently highlighted that they were seeing increased activity again from scammers contacting people claiming to be from their bank or from a financial services vendor used by them.
The goal of the scammer is to get victims to log in to their online banking account whilst the scammer has remote access to their computer. The scammer convinces the victim to install software that enables remote access, claiming it is required to install an important update.
The victim is instructed to log in to their online banking account, and then the remote access software is used to blur the screen whilst the scammer makes fraudulent transactions from the victim’s account.
The victim is asked to read out one-time verification codes that the scammer claims they have sent to the victim’s mobile. These codes are from the victim’s bank, which if shared will allow the scammer to transfer money out of the victim’s bank account.
How to protect yourself from remote access scams
This year’s motto for Cybersecurity Awareness month is #BeSmarterThanAHacker, and refers to the knowledge and tools we need to protect ourselves from cybercriminals. This includes:
Don’t talk to strangers: Just as we were told as children! Avoid conversations online with people you don’t know or haven’t seen in a very long time. Don’t reveal personal details.
Be wary of unexpected requests for information: No company or financial institution will ever ask for your passwords.
Now, now, now! Be on alert when asked to act quickly and under pressure. Take a deep breath and think before taking any action.
Before clicking on a link, always check it’s genuine: Badly written website addresses are a giveaway. A good example of how to know if a site is genuine is the display of a secure badge. All Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) regulated firms are obliged to display the CLC secure badge on their websites.
The badge is a unique piece of code that the CLC can monitor use of to ensure there is no unauthorised use of the secure badge. Consumers can click on the badge to see information about the regulated firm on the CLC’s website.
And remember, when it comes time to exchange funds on your property, there are deadlines to be met, but there is also always time to double check with your conveyancer the correct bank details. Do this via a phone number you know to be genuine.
Don’t allow scammers a chance to part you with your hard saved for deposit!
A few points to bear in mind to help you spot a scam
Your bank will never ask you to grant them remote access to your computer or smartphone. Never install remote access software on your device as a result of an unsolicited call, browser pop up, or text message.
One-time verification codes sent to you by your bank should never be shared with anyone.
If you receive a suspicious call claiming to be from your bank, hang up and call your bank using the number on the back of your bank card, or from their official website or app.
If you believe your laptop, PC, tablet or phone has been infected with a virus or malware, follow the National Cyber Security Centre’s guidance on ‘How to recover an infected device’.
If you have fallen victim to fraud or cyber-crime, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.
Stephen Ward is director of strategy and external relations at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers