Walton on Thames

Don’t fall victim to online scammers

In recent years, we have become increasingly reliant on computers, tablets and smart-phones. We use the internet to do everything from ordering a pizza and chatting with friends to planning holidays and running our bank accounts. It all adds up to more convenience in our lives, but there are times when this reliance takes on a more sinister turn.

The more high-tech our society is, the more ingenious certain criminal elements become. We have all heard about computer fraud in the past, and indeed some of us will have fallen victim to it, but the increase in criminal activity means we have to remain ever more vigilant, especially when wrong-doers become ever more sophisticated.

Recently, an attempted scam was used to try to hoodwink an innocent house buyer. Although the attempt proved to be unsuccessful, it has served to re mind us all of the need for caution at all times. The case involved a fraudulent email that was sent to a purchaser asking for money to be transferred to the ‘estate agent’. The sum involved was substantial, so the harm that could have been done would have been significant.

It’s thought the scammers had hacked into previous emails between the various parties, so they knew about the amount of money involved and the approximate timeline. Sadly, this will almost certainly not be the last time such an attempt is made.

Fortunately, the intended victim smelt a rat, and decided to ask a few questions before parting with any money. Rather than send a sizable deposit to a bogus account, she had the good sense to contact the estate agency by phone. Only by doing this was the scam exposed.

This is perhaps the first time a bogus estate agent was involved, but we have seen many past examples of fake conveyancers making contact with property sellers. It’s a sad but perhaps inevitable fact that there are criminals who will do all they can to steal our money, and it’s even sadder to accept that some members of our community will fall for such tactics.

This rather worrying development reminds us all about the need to take every transaction seriously. Estate agents work hard to build a relationship with buyers and sellers, as well as with renters and owners, and they need to ensure everyone involved knows who they are dealing with. The seller who was the subject of the scam became suspicious because the email didn’t contain the estate agent’s logo, but even if the logo was present it could still have been a scam.

Here at James Neave, we strongly advise all parties to double check every single detail of an online transaction before hitting the ‘Send’ button. We recommend total vigilance at all times, and if there is any doubt whatsoever, even an inkling of suspicion, it’s best to contact the agent or canvasser by phone. This is one of those occasions when it pays to be on full alert.