Internet banking scam hits legal profession
A Guildford solicitor has revealed her anguish after being conned into transferring close to a million pounds of her clients’ money to criminals.
Sole practitioner Karen Mackie took a call in April which claimed to be from her bank warning her that her clients’ accounts had been compromised — and as a result ended up moving £734,000 into new accounts in £99,000 chunks.
Having realised soon after that she was the victim of a scam Mackie went to the police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which suspended her — partly because this allowed her clients to access to the Solicitors Compensation Scheme, which refunds such losses.
Since then Mackie (whose LinkedIn is pictured below) has appeared as a small entry on the SRA’s website, which notes her failure “to comply with the accounts rules and principles made by the SRA” and that she “has been suspended with immediate effect”.
But a wrangle with her professional indemnity insurers — who are refusing to pay out — saw Mackie go public about her situation in an interview with the BBC’s Money Box programme over the weekend.
The insurers say that even if the solicitor had not been dishonest herself, she had effectively “condoned dishonesty activities” by others, adding:
Ms Mackie is a solicitor who represents a risk to the public and cannot be trusted with holding client money.
Mackie is distraught about this, and has charted the details of the scam to in a bid to show that it was genuinely sophisticated.
First, she took the call from a woman claiming to be “Joanne Howard from NatWest” saying that one of her accounts had been compromised and asking her to phone the number on the back of her debit card, which is the bank’s helpline.
Mackie ended the call and phoned that number.
But she did so immediately, meaning that due to a standard BT delay clearing the previous call she was put straight back to “Joanne Howard”, who gave her more bogus information and told her NatWest would call her back the next day to shift the money to “safe” accounts.
Which is exactly what happened — only the accounts weren’t so safe. £222,000 was subsequently retrieved by the bank, but the scammers got away with the rest.
The news comes after an unnamed non-legal Suffolk company fell victim last month to a £1 million phone scam — the biggest ever thought to have occurred in the UK.
Yet it seems that some law firms may have suffered greater losses. The SRA indicated to Money Box that Mackie isn’t the only lawyer to have been conned this way, with others apparently having transferred seven figure sums to crooks. The regulatory body says three to four law firms receive these calls each week.