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Britain's Conveyancing Association, a professional body whose members handle one in five property transactions in England and Wales, has a simple message for lawyers (alright, solicitors), conveyancers, and clients: if you want to stop fraud, stop using email.
The message comes after reports of hundreds of thousands of pounds stolen by criminals who hacked emails between legal professionals and property buyers and sellers. So, the Conveyancing Association argues, to be safe with sensitive information, send it snail mail.
Britain is in the midst of a wave of "Friday afternoon fraud," according to the UK newspaper The Telegraph. That's when criminals hack into email accounts and divert payments into their own funds. The cyber-heists are named after Friday because criminals seek out transactions being processed ahead of the weekend, in order to limit detection.
Many of the attacks are targeted at emails between solicitors and their clients. Hackers will look for details of bank accounts into which a party should transfer money, then swap out the information for their own and walk away with someone's down payment on a home.
One successful scheme can net fraudsters hundreds of thousands of dollars, but "the legal community has done little to protect homebuyers and sellers," the Telegraph claims.
Not anymore, though. In response, the Conveyancing Association has launched a "cyber safety" initiative, urging UK solicitors to communicate important details through the post. According to Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the association, snail mail is "as safe as you can get." Email? Not so much.
Solicitors in the UK, and legal professionals everywhere, are right to be concerned over email safety. While email has become the primary means that lawyers communicate, many email systems may not be secure enough to prevent disclosure of sensitive client communications and information.
Of course, that doesn't mean you have to return to quills and wax seals. Encrypting messages can give them an added layer of security, and most email systems do so by default these days. But, encryption is a two-way game. If your recipients' email service isn't protected, your messages can be compromised.
Other alternatives include online communication portals in which clients log in to receive and send messages, or web-based widgets for secure communications.
But whether you're in the UK or the USA, the important thing is to think twice before having your clients send you sensitive information through any potentially unsecured platform.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.