Take immediate action

With the newly enhanced efforts criminals go to in order to get their hands on valuable assets, it’s integral for any professional to remain adept in how to protect yourself as well as your business.

The important thing to note when assessing risks is considering what firms are liable. The answer is…any firm. With modern society being technology reliant, there is a whole host of fresh scams that are looking to infiltrate businesses and their clients.

What information could a scammer potentially want?

Scammers often attempt target the most valuable and potentially destructive information possible, such as bank details, access to client data systems, and many more. The most valuable target for a theft is the access to your clients’ accounts – no matter what size the business is. When assessing the risk in terms of the size of a business, it is important to note that with prestige, volume and reputation comes greater investment into resource and enhanced protection. For criminals, a highly prestigious company may be deemed dangerous territory, forcing them to opt for smaller firms. With the smaller firms there are considerably fewer assets to potentially steal, however the quality of security won’t be comparable with larger businesses.

What to do if you suspect you are a victim of a scam?

The first port of call if any suspicion arises is to inform: your bank on the situation, the police at the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, your professional indemnity (PI) insurer, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for further protection. If your business doesn’t fall under the legal sector, bodies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a specified regulator or institution within your sector are alternative pathways you can take.

The SRA, when dealing with cyber-based issues regarding clients’ accounts, usually assist with the introduction of the police. In terms of replacing the funds, a loss of money from the client account will amount to a breach of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011; this being due to the rules imposing liability regardless of personal fault. Insurance is also an issue many professionals become unstuck on as they offer settlement and admission of liability to a third party. The admission to a third party is something you are advised to avoid without notifying your insurers first, as the firm are obliged to disclose certain insurance details to clients and/or claimants. Once you’ve informed your insurance provider and have staked a claim, the SRA will want to be notified of this, as well as whether the insurance is likely to pay.

What do you need to do after a scam?

After the appropriate reports have been submitted, an effective plan should be taken to ensure that your clients’ best interests are intact, along with the company’s security and reputation. When devising a plan, it is important to take into account some of the codes and principals devised by bodies such as the Society of Will Writers (SWW), The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and the SRA. The principles that are suggested by the SRA for example is that all firms should take into account: ‘acting with integrity’, ‘acting in the best interests of each client’, ‘behaving in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services’, and ‘protecting client money and assets’. The resurrection of pre-existing accounts is likely to be a difficult task for you and your bank, which is why the bank of choice may decide to set up a new client account to overcome the barrier of getting back into business.

Closing your firm is an option that is dreaded, however if your firm is unable to amount the funds required, the SRA will set a timescale in which your firm will have to close.

How could this effect the wills and probate profession?

With the sensitivity of the subject involved, it is apparent that the possessions of a will writing or probate client are of great value. Due to the possessions clients bequeath to their family members being of considerable worth — this makes them a prime target. As the will writing profession lacks regulation, it may be more difficult for businesses and sole practitioners in this sector to revitalise client assets. Criminals are likely be aware of the sector they are looking to hijack, and will be aware of the lack of regulation and the loopholes they could potentially exploit.

Today's Wills and Probate