England: SRA figures show number of fake law firms up by 101 per cent
Figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) show reports of fake law firms have gone up by 101 per cent.
The SRA, which is the body regulating solicitors in England and Wales, said there were 701 reports of fake law firms in 2014, up from 349 in 2012.
The new follows warnings from the Law Society of Scotland that the number of fake firms is going up north of the border too.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA (pictured) said: “The type of thing is you receive a text message or email that tells you that you can claim compensation when you have no reason to expect that you can.
“Or that a distant relative has died and if you pass on your bank details then they will pass on a large amount of money to you.”
A small number of cases are much more sophisticated, with criminals pretending to be solicitors in order to steal from transactions worth six-figure sums.
Two years ago, Imran Noorgat and his wife, Aishah, were purchasing a flat in London.
Their conveyancer was genuine but the seller’s solicitor was a fake.
They were unaware until they had paid and he ignored emails from the couple.
Mr Noorgat said: “It was truly shocking.
“It was exactly £175,000 that we had borrowed from family and friends so that we could be mortgage-free in our first property and literally that was all gone.”
The fake solicitor impersonated genuine solicitor Noel Gareth Edwards, who is based in the Wirral and is registered with the SRA.
He said: “It is upsetting to know that someone has used what I like to think of as my professional good name to con somebody out of a large amount of money.”
However, plans are being made to make the conveyancing process safer.
Mr Philip told BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme that increased reporting may be behind the rise the SRA is seeing.
He said: “When we receive an allegation there is a bogus firm out there we will put out alerts and warnings. Given that we are raising awareness, it is not completely surprising that we are getting more reports.”
There are identity check services available to make sure a conveyance is genuine and the Law Society is to launch its own, aimed specifically at conveyancing.
The new service, Vevo, is being developed in collaboration with IT companyMastek UK.
The company’s chief executive, Elliott Vigar, said: “All of the conveyancers who are on the system will be subject to rigorous vetting to ensure that they are who they say they are.”
Buyers and sellers will not be charged to use the system but it will cost conveyancers £20 per transaction in addition to an annual £50 admin fee per user.