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Property buyers targeted by scammers posing as their lawyers: Law Society

SCAMMERS are targeting property buyers by impersonating their lawyers handling the transactions - then fraudulently asking for funds to be transferred to them.

Two law firms recently encountered such scam in quick succession, one of which had a client who fell for the ruse and ended up with unspecified losses, the Law Society revealed at a press conference on Friday.

It said the scammers' modus operandi involved first hacking the buyer's email account and then sending out - purportedly as the buyer's lawyer - some payment instructions to complete the conveyancing transaction.

Law Society President Gregory Vijayendran said this trend has raised some serious concern. It appears that scammers and criminals are targeting law firms that do conveyancing work, he said. Also, the exchange of emails suggests some knowledge of conveyancing practice including completion dates and keys handover, he noted.

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However, it does not mean that other types of transactions would be spared, warned Mr Vijayendran, as other areas of legal practice that involve a transfer of funds could be vulnerable as well.

In the first scam reported to the Law Society, the scammer in late April sent the buyer e-mails from an e-mail account that was deceptively similar to his real lawyer's and directed the buyer to change the payment mode from cheque to telegraphic transfer. Fortunately, the buyer checked with his lawyer and managed to stop the telegraphic transfer of S$300,000.

Another buyer was less fortunate and suffered losses - of which amount was was not made known to the Law Society. In this case that occured in early May, the law firm sent a letter via e-mail attachment to the buyer asking for a cashier's order. The scammer had bought a domain name almost identical to the law firm's and sent the buyer emails informing him of a change in payment mode. The buyer was told to do a telegraphic transfer instead of purchasing cashier’s orders.

Also, the scammer had forged the letter from the law firm to state the account to which the funds should be transferred. Believing this letter to be genuine, the buyer transferred the funds as purportedly advised, resulting in a substantial loss of money.