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Stockport woman warns of sophisticated cyber-attacks following £35k loss

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A Stockport woman is warning people to be vigilant when transferring large sums of money after falling victim to sophisticated payment fraud just nine days before Christmas in 2018 leaving her £35,000 out of pocket.

52-year-old Sally Flood had been looking forward to completing on an investment property for her children in time for Christmas with money inherited from her dad. A call from her bank however, left the family devastated as she realised that she had been victim to sophisticated fraud.

A careers adviser at a secondary school in Stockport, Sally Flood said: "I was looking forward to completing on a property I planned to purchase as an investment for my children with money left to me by my dad. It was close to Christmas and I was keen to complete quickly. When I received an email from my solicitor asking for a transfer of funds, I transferred the first instalment then I contacted one of the ladies at the office via email to check that the funds had been received. I received an email back confirming receipt of the first payment.

"I then proceeded to transfer the remainder completely unaware that it was a scam. My heart sank when the bank called to query the transactions as a discrepancy in the solicitor's details had been picked up. I phoned my solicitor straight away only to have them confirm that they had discovered a day earlier that their system had been hacked. It was an extremely difficult Christmas for the family and we still feel like our lives are on hold now."

Sally's solicitor Kingsley Hayes, managing director at data breach and cybercrime specialist Hayes Connor, said: "Fraudsters are increasingly sophisticated and the emails sent to my client were very authentic containing details of the property being purchased and the desired date of completion so Mrs Flood had no reason to question it or anticipate that it may have been fake.

"They had successfully hacked her solicitor's email system and were able to read details of the planned purchase and were aware that my client was keen to complete before Christmas. They swooped on the opportunity to take advantage and succeeded in illegally obtaining the total amount of £96,000 intended for the property purchase.

"We investigated the crime and succeeded in retrieving £57,000 from Mrs Flood's conveyancing solicitor as it was responsible for the lack of robust security measures on its system. Our client is still significantly out of pocket however.

"Unfortunately, as the incident took place before new consumer protection rights were introduced at the end of May 2019 via the new Voluntary Code of Conduct, it will be extremely difficult to retrieve the remaining stolen monies."

Continuing, Sally Flood commented: "Our lives have been on hold since this happened. I still blame myself and feel very anxious and upset. It's a lot of money to lose and it's even more upsetting because it was money left to us by my dad and was supposed to be for our children's future.

"The first email asking for the funds transfer looked very authentic. When I received a second email, in response to mine, confirming receipt of the first transfer from my solicitor, I naturally felt reassured and made a further payment.

"The fraudsters banked with Lloyds and while the bank was able to refund an unspent £4,000 from their account, I have been advised that they are unable to retrieve the remaining £35,000 which is still a lot of money for most ordinary families."

Kingsley Hayes continued: "Although consumers now have greater protection rights under the Code of Conduct if their bank is signed up to it, extra caution is advised as fraudsters become increasingly sophisticated. According to Finance UK, £354 million was lost to payment fraud during 2018, 93% of victims were individuals who lost a total of £228 million.

"While the new Code of Conduct provides greater consumer protection, it doesn't mean that victims are guaranteed to get all their money back as fraudsters deploy complex tactics including quickly removing stolen funds to overseas accounts making it very difficult to retrieve, if at all."