Single mother loses £77k to fraudsters posing as solicitors
A single mother from County Down has been left devastated after losing almost £77,000 in an elaborate internet scam that targets solicitors firms.
On BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, Amanda Jackson said her life has fallen apart after fraudsters targeted her as she prepared to close on a house sale.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland said it had been alerting solicitors to email scams since September.
It issued a public-wide warning on Friday (October 9).
It said it had become aware of an increased number of frauds targeting a number of solicitor firms throughout Northern Ireland since the end of September.
But the practice of fraudsters posing as solicitors to target their clients via email is "a new and worrying development", it said.
"Such is the level of sophistication that neither the client nor solicitor is aware of the fraud until it has been successfully perpetrated," it said.
Ms Jackson was looking forward to starting a new chapter of her life by selling her former marital home and purchasing another property for her young family.
She was due to close on the sale on Friday, October 2.
On that day, she was contacted via email by her solicitor's office to advise that the money was due and that she should transfer it into their Danske account, the details of which were provided.
However, a few hours later, Ms Jackson received a second email stating that the previous account details were wrong and that she should, instead, transfer it into a Barclays account, for which the number and sort code were listed.
Believing the second email to be sent by her solicitor, Amanda went to her local Danske bank and made the transfer of £76,959.
However, this was a fraudulent account, which she only became aware of when her money failed to reach her lawyer's bank account on Monday.
Ms Jackson said she was "almost hysterical" when she realised what had happened. She was particularly shocked to learn that the name of an account holder is apparently irrelevant when making bank transfers.
"I naively thought that those details were married up and checked, certainly on a big transaction like that. But the account name means nothing apparently. So why do they ask you for it? Why did I think I was safer going into the bank?
"The bank clerk pointed out that I could have done it online and I actually said I wouldn't do a transaction like that online - it's too big an amount for it to go wrong."
The Nolan Show contacted Danske Bank, which said in a statement: "Our policy is to do everything in our power to help retrieve customers' money when it ends up in the wrong hands through the actions of fraudsters.
"However, if consumers respond to an email from fraudsters and send money there is no mechanism within the industry to get the money back, if it's a transaction they authorise."
Barclays Bank, where the fraudulent account was set up, said: "We can confirm that in opening and managing accounts, we comply with all regulatory requirements, including in respect of identification and verification.
"We recognise that some consumers' interests have been damaged as a result of the conduct of some customers and that money has been lost.
"Regrettably, we are unable to provide any refund for individuals whose funds have been withdrawn from the account before we were made aware of the situation."
Barclays said there were no prior transactions on the account that would have led them to believe there was inappropriate activity and that Amanda's money was immediately removed from the account.
The PSNI also confirmed that it received a report of fraud on Tuesday (October 6) and that it has been referred to Action Fraud - an organisation that examines all fraud and cyber-crime related reports in the UK.
The PSNI is currently making enquiries to assist the investigation.
Ms Jackson says she has felt sick with stress since she realised she had been scammed.
"I'm just helpless now. I've been to the banks, I've been to the police, I've been to my solicitor and everyone's just telling me 'Your money is gone'. I just cannot believe that I could lose this amount of money in this way. My life has just fallen apart."