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Any one of us could be scammed

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 13/10/2015

Amanda Jackson
Amanda Jackson

In today's world most of us feel quite at ease corresponding, conducting banking transactions, buying or selling online. We know of the dangers of identity theft or internet-based scams but we never really think that we will be victims. That is what those who want to part us from our money are depending on.

The case of Amanda Jackson, reported in this newspaper today, shows the sophistication of the internet thieves and how vulnerable any of us could be to a similar scam.

She had received an email telling her to lodge money into a certain account. The email had been embedded in real messages from her solicitors but was bogus and now the money - a staggering £77,000 - she lodged has disappeared.

What a bitter blow for this woman who has suffered more than enough hardship in recent years, including a divorce, the death of her mother and news that her father has to undergo radiotherapy. She could now even lose the £30,000 that she has already lodged as a deposit for the house purchase if she cannot complete the deal soon.

Solicitors in Northern Ireland have come under cyber-attack with increasing frequency in recent months. Indeed, the Law Society, which governs the work of solicitors, had written to firms warning of the potential dangers of such scams and advising them to upgrade their internet and email security.

It seems that hackers were still able to gain access to the email account of the firm representing Ms Jackson. It was the fact that other emails from the firm were attached to the bogus message which had helped catch her off guard.

Perhaps the Law Society should have given greater publicity to the cyber threats to member firms which might have alerted clients to be wary of any correspondence they received in relation to legal transactions.

But that is of little matter to Ms Jackson now. The bank where the bogus account was opened and then closed denies any liability for her loss and the legal firm can correctly argue that it has no responsibility even if its email account was hacked.

However, it seems unfair that she should suffer such a huge loss through acting in good faith. Perhaps, given that such scams are gaining in sophistication and frequency, some sort of contingency fund should be established either by the profession or government to recompense clients left out of pocket.

Belfast Telegraph

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