Law Society warns of scammers using property deals

A buyer of a property in Singapore unknowingly transferred some $300,000 by electronic means to a scammer pretending to be her legal solicitor last month.

After hacking into the buyer's e-mail account and extracting her solicitor's details, the scammer impersonated the lawyer by using a similar looking e-mail. Fortunately, the payment was stopped in time.

Mr Gregory Vijayendran, president of the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), highlighted the incident yesterday to remind members of the public of cyber attacks involving legal transactions. He said clients should always verify with their lawyer before effecting payments, in the event they receive e-mail requests for funds transfers purportedly from the solicitor.

Speaking to reporters at his office, he said that if any instructions from the previous communication deviate, clients should also check with the law firm before taking action.

Police figures showed that last year, victims of business e-mail impersonation scams in Singapore suffered a combined loss of $57.9 million, the biggest amount lost to online scams.

Mr Vijayendran said the reminder is timely in the light of two incidents that occurred in the second half of last month.

In the case of the property purchaser, he said the scammer, while pretending to be the woman's lawyer, insisted that the developer would accept the 25 per cent payment of the purchase price only by telegraphic transfer.

 
 

Fortunately, her bank had not effected the payment when she and her solicitor realised the scam.

The other case also involved a real estate deal, with the client losing a significant amount of money after transferring funds to a Bank of China account in Hong Kong. The scammer had also pretended to be from a law firm.

The law firms involved in the two cases notified the LawSoc of the incidents.

Mr Vijayendran said law firms should explain conveyancing timelines to clients who are less familiar with the process. This, he added, should be done in writing.

"It is important to take appropriate steps to clearly communicate payment instructions to clients, especially those who may not be IT savvy, such as elderly clients," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2019, with the headline 'Law Society warns of scammers using property deals'. Print Edition | Subscribe