Conveyancers must not treat cyber scams as an IT issue.
‘What do insurers really think about conveyancing and what steps can you take as a practice to reduce your PI premium?’
That was the title of one of the eagerly anticipated sessions at the Conveyancing Association’s inaugural conference in London last week.
The answer (or at least one of them)? You really need to make sure you don’t fall victim to so-called ‘Friday afternoon scams’.
Fraud and cyber risk are a ‘big deal’ for insurers, Steve Ray, director of insurance broker Howden Windsor, told the conference.
Friday afternoons are when criminals tend to target conveyancing firms that are holding large amounts of money in client accounts.
More worrying though, as a panel session on cyber scams highlighted, is that criminals don’t need to be all that sophisticated when persuading people to release information.
Weightmans partner Mickaela Fox told the conference that ‘human fallacy’ was to blame for criminals getting into firms’ systems and using the information they find to orchestrate an attack.
Fox said she knew three firms that lost between £200,000 and £300,000 in a single transaction after fraudsters sent emails purporting to be from clients.
Earlier this year, the Solicitors Regulation Authority said it was receiving four reports a month of suspected cybercrime attempts.
Why are firms struggling to get on top of this problem? Perhaps because they treat cyber scams as an IT problem when, in fact, this is an information security problem.
‘People used to keep cheques locked in a safe,’ Legal Risk partner Francis Dingwall told the conference. ‘You put digital locks on digital doors. You also do not open the door to the wrong person. That’s in the hands of your account staff. [But] it’s treated as an IT issue and left in the hands of IT directors.’
A change of mindset ‘from top to bottom’ is required, Fox says: ‘Anyone who has got access to your technology and data is vulnerable and a target.’
The panel discussion on cyber scams considered whether they are ‘the greatest threat to our livelihoods?’. To some, this will seem like an overreaction. But firms (of any kind, not just conveyancing) cannot afford to become targets for fraudsters. Not least because, as Fox notes, insurers will be looking at their culpability.
Perhaps it’s time you paid your IT department a visit.
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter