Monday, May 30, 2016
I lost £137,000 (Sterling) in a conveyancing scam
Dr Ellen Wright was a victim of a conveyancing scam last January
When Ellen Wright lost over £130,000 in a sophisticated solicitor scam in January 2015, her first port of call was her bank.
However, when she reported the fraud at 6.40pm on a Friday evening, First Direct told her the fraud team had finished for the night.
A few days before, Dr Wright, 56, thought she had made the final £137,000 payment for a south East London flat she had bought for £148,000 at auction.
However, as in many cases of conveyancing fraud reported by Telegraph Money, Dr Wright had been duped by an email from a criminal posing as her solicitor. The spoofed email explained a change in bank details and requested Dr Wright pay the remaining balance into the new account.
“I have no idea if there is any prospect of any money being returned to me. The police say it may be part of a much bigger operation nationwide
Dr Wright was on a skiing holiday in Austria when she made the transaction by telephone. She returned four days days later to the devastating news that she had lost her savings and her buy-to-let flat.
She said: “If I’d been at home and wasn’t rushing to meet the payment deadline, maybe I would have spotted something.”
While she was abroad, emails were sent by her solicitor firm, Beverly Morris and Co in Blackheath, south London to let Dr Wright know the money had not been received. However, these were also intercepted and deleted.
Dr Wright only found out she had been a victim of fraud she phoned the solicitor to arrange to pick up the keys. She was then informed that transaction had not gone through.
She called First Direct to report the crime and try claw back what the fraudsters stole. But as it was 6.40pm on a Friday night she was told the fraud team had gone home.
The fraud team of the criminal's bank, RBS, was also off duty.
By the time First Direct contacted RBS the next morning, all that was left in the criminal's account was £1,000. According to First Direct, most of the cash had been drained from the account before Dr Wright realised she'd been a victim.
A First Direct spokesman said: "We are sorry to hear about Dr Wright's circumstances and are sympathetic to her situation. The money had already been transferred to an RBS account, which meant it was outside our control.
"We tried to help Dr Wright as much as possible including contacting RBS, the police and working with a solicitor, but unfortunately the money had already cleared to the other account which the customer provided."
RBS managed to recover a further £7,000 as part of its fraud investigation. However, over a year later, Dr Wright still does not know if she will ever get the remaining £130,000 back.
"Insufficient viable lines for enquiry"
After the delay with her bank, Dr Wright faced further difficulty getting her case heard.
When she tried to report the crime to the police, she was told she must first go to national crime reporting centre, Action Fraud.
However, Action Fraud told that because there were “insufficient viable lines for enquiry for a successful investigation” so it would not be passing her case onto any law enforcement agency.
Dr Wright said: “I couldn’t believe it when Action Fraud told me my case wasn’t worth investigating. I didn’t know what to do.
"The police wouldn’t take my information without Action Fraud and RBS, the fraudster’s bank wouldn’t give me any details without the police getting involved.”
However, despite receiving the letter dismissing further investigation, Action Fraud did pass on Dr Wright's case to the Metropolitan police within four days of receiving the report.
An Action Fraud spokesman said: “The crime report was sent to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau for assessment but there were no viable lines of enquiry for it to be passed to a police force for formal investigation and the victim was informed of this. The report was, however, passed to the Metropolitan Police Service for victim care.”
Detectives from the Met's Operation Falcon, the cyber crime and fraud unit confirmed to Telegraph Money that it was contacted in January 2015 by Action Fraud. An investigation was launched and two women were arrested and bailed. They will return to a date this summer.
A third woman has also been questioned. The investigation is ongoing.
Dr Wright said: “I have no idea if there is any prospect of any money being returned to me. The police say it may be part of a much bigger operation nationwide.
A series of solicitor frauds
Like many other cases of conveyancing scams reported by Telegraph Money, Dr Wright was deceived by an email that appeared to be from her solicitor firm. The fraudsters were working both ways and also impersonated Dr Wright.
Ms Wright the note from her was “peculiar”.
She said: “It had the names the wrong way around - it was addressed to Ellen. It also didn’t use capital letters. The words were not the sort I would have used.
"I don't understand why the solicitor firm didn't try and phone me."
Angela Stanton, a partner of Beverley Morris and Co who dealt with Dr Wright’s transaction said she did not call Dr Wright during this time because she knew “how difficult it is to take calls when you are on the slopes.”
She said: “We had always communicated by e-mail and I thought she would read my e-mails when she got back to her hotel room later that day. Neither of us expected our e-mails to be intercepted. When we realised what had happened we were both absolutely dumbfounded.”
Ms Stanton confirmed the company network was not compromised. Since the fraud occurred, the firm has added a note to the bottom of company correspondence that says it no longer sends bank details by email.