FISA member Katherine Gascoigne shares her experience at the hands of cyber fraudsters. She writes:
“My firm has become a victim of cyber-crime and I would like to briefly share the facts with you in order to ensure that all of us are made aware of the potential dangers for conveyancers and deceased estate practitioners who deal with trust monies and how much of a target we are. We all think it will never happen to us, until it does, and the consequences are upsetting, frightening and dangerous.
An email with our trust banking details was intercepted/re-directed and the banking details contained in the email and on the proof of banking details (in pdf format) were manipulated and the Purchaser, unknowingly, made payment into a fraudulent bank account. There are questions surrounding the bank and its obligations regarding this account.
The proof of payment from the Purchaser was also intercepted and manipulated and it was only 3 days (which is a reasonable turnaround time given the cross banking timelines, as well as the time of banking) before a red flag was raised that the monies were not reflecting and the Purchaser and agent advised that the funds were not reflecting, by which time the funds had been removed from the fraudulent account.
I recently become aware that a very similar incident that happened a few months prior to mine, to well-known firm of attorneys which involved, shockingly, the same agency and the same agent, and the agency and the agent failed to divulge this incident to our offices when the fraud was discovered.
Notwithstanding that I have a clear message on my emails to all clients to properly ensure that the banking details are correct due to the high incidence of cyber fraud and despite the fact that the monies were never received into my trust account I have been threatened with extremely disturbing messages, which have caused me to become involved in a very different area of law and requiring the need to employ my own attorney.
My colleague who experienced the similar incident confided in me how she was treated by the estate agency and agent, notwithstanding that in her situation she had not even despatched any communication to the Purchaser, she was made to feel that the responsibility for the fraud was hers and that her capability as a conveyancer was in question. I, too, have received this treatment from the agent and I have become aware that defamatory and untrue statements have been made against me and my firm, which is extremely concerning as a long standing practitioner in the conveyancing and deceased estate administration environment.”
Any FISA members who have had similar experiences are welcome to contact Katherine directly at email@example.com.
FISA members are also referred to the summary of Van Rensburg v Van Rensburg N.O and Others  ZAECGHC 29 posted on the FISA website on 9 April 2020.