Law Society was warned of email scam five weeks before mum was conned out of £77,000
Solicitors in Northern Ireland were alerted to an email scam FIVE WEEKS before a single mum was conned out of nearly £80,000 while purchasing a house.
The warning email was sent by The Law Society of Northern Ireland, which represents and regulates solicitors here, to advise them of a 'transaction scam currently circulating' and detailed how the con works.
Today, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal how solicitors' firms were advised to review their email and internet security "as matter of priority" and to upgrade their security software.
The 'high alert' email was sent on August 27 to all members of the Law Society. There are currently more than 2,300 solicitors practising in Northern Ireland.
The warning email shows that the society and its members were aware of the elaborate internet scam that involves fraudsters intercepting an email conversation between two firms or a firm and a client which contains banking details.
We can also reveal that the Law Society has received reports about the crimes since April but said that the ferocity of the attacks on solicitor firms has increased since the end of August.
"The format of the attacks keeps changing and it's moved from telephone calls to email scams to telephone calls to email scams often and now identity theft of the firm's contact details," Paul O'Connor, spokesperson for the society said.
"The new element is the attack on clients and last Wednesday, October 7, it was reported to us by a solicitors firm that fraudsters had successfully targeted a client.
"I have received about 10 plus reports of cyber-attacks on our firms since September. Firms based throughout Northern Ireland."
Arleen Elliott, president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland earlier said they were aware of the rise in cyber-attacks.
She said: "Such is the level of sophistication of the fraud that neither the client nor solicitor is aware of the fraud until it has been successfully perpetrated.
"The Law Society is warning the public, clients and its members to be extremely vigilant.
"Clients should not make a transfer of funds if they receive an unusual email or phone request informing them that the solicitors banking details and arrangements have changed.
"Before making any money transfer the client should always double check directly with their solicitor."
Danny O'Rawe from Blackstaff Technology tests cyber security in businesses and is an expert in hacking attacks.
He said he believes the solicitor's firm involved in the incident was targeted by the fraudsters and that they could have been watching email trails "for weeks".
He said: "It is apparent to me that someone was actively either on their mail server or on one of the computers in their office - 'on' meaning having full access to.
"Access could have been gained by opening a fake attachment on one of the computers or compromising the mail server that the company uses. I would assume that they have been watching email trails for a number of days/ weeks/ months preparing and waiting for the right time. A weekend was the perfect time to initiate a scam like this, knowing that no one would realise it happened until at least Monday."