In Glasgow, Scotland, the Herald Scotland
- A COUPLE lost more than £30,000 after the solicitors’ firm they hired to sell their holiday home was duped by an online fraudster, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Scotland.
Alan and Lizanne Richards, from Dunblane, say they are furious that the firm has never apologised or reimbursed them since mistakenly transferring the profits from the sale of their two-bedroom property in Pittenweem harbour into the scammer’s bank account in July last year.
Exactly £30,366.65 was stolen when the fraudster hacked into online correspondence between the Richards and their solicitor at the Glasgow branch of Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie (WJM), before duplicating the couple’s email to request that the firm pay the funds to a new sort code and account number. It turned out to belong to a bank account in Birmingham.
Mr Richards, who owns a window-making factory in East Kilbride, said the couple are “at the end of our tether” trying to recoup the lost cash.
He said: “From the minute it happened, they’ve never spoken to us since. Not one member of that organisation has been on the phone to apologise. They could just say ‘we’re sorry and we’ll do everything we can to help you get the money back’. “But nothing – not a jot. It just beggars belief.”
The businessman said plans to use the money to buy a new property in Dunblane or a student flat for their son were now “out the window”.
Despite the error, the firm collected its fee of £1,261 for the sale.
Mr Richards, 57, added: “They were in charge of our money, we never got it – and they got paid for it anyway.”
An initial investigation by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has also infuriated the couple.
The agency concluded in April that the firm was not at fault because “nothing in the content, email address or sender of the emails would, on the face of it, have caused the solicitor to have concern that the email was not genuine”.
The couple are seeking a review of the decision. Mrs Richards, 51, said: “It’s left me feeling very vulnerable. You feel like you’ve been burgled, but nobody has been in your house – it’s virtual.”
She has had to take medication for depression and anxiety and admits that some days the stress of the situation means she cannot get out of bed.
“We can’t afford to lose that kind of money. I try not to think about the amount,” she said.
The type of hoax, which has been nicknamed “Friday afternoon fraud”, is already known to have cost law firms in England and Wales some £85 million over the past 18 months.
According to the Law Society of Scotland, such cases count as negligence and would be covered by insurance.
However, similar cases in England have seen homeowners spending months fighting for compensation because legal firms refuse to accept liability for the hoax.
[Local elected representative] Murdo Fraser, MSP [Member, Scottish Parliament] for Perthshire and a former solicitor, said the case had “quite severe implications” for the public.
Mr Fraser said: “If you can hand over large sums of money to a professional who then pays it to the wrong account and you have no comeback, that just seems extraordinary to me.
“Your heart goes out to the Richards, who are entirely innocent in all this.
“It just seems very odd that the solicitors’ response seems to be to wash their hands of the situation and refuse to take any responsibility.
“I think there’s a huge moral imperative on the solicitors to settle.”