With identity theft accounting for 41% of all fraud in the UK, it is hardly surprising that the issue of bogus law firms is also on the rise with 701 reports in 2014, a 101% increase since 2012.
A bogus law firm is one that is created with the intention of stealing money and / or information. Some bogus firms target people directly pretending to be a law firm or a solicitor, whilst others target the firm.
The SRA is keen to flag up the dangers here. Victims of bogus firms are not covered by the normal regulatory protections that apply to SRA regulated firms, for example, the Compensation Fund. Many bogus firms have successfully obtained sensitive information and money through their deception thus causing loss of reputation, trust and money to both the actual firm and their clients.
The sharing of intelligence with other regulators and anti-crime agencies has become vital for the SRA, who are also very keen to publicise bogus firms and scams as quickly and conveniently as possible through such mediums as Twitter and on its website.
As well as assisting genuine firms targeted by bogus firms through proper advice, ensuring adequate controls and measures in place to protect themselves, contacting service providers bogus firms, and so on, the SRA asks that all firms become more proactive in protecting themselves. Such guidance and warnings are discussed in the paper In the shadows: Risks associated with bogus firms.
Some key practical points are:
- perform regular searches to check for fraudulent use of company name, details, people,
- ensure details on the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor page are up to date,
- keep up to date with scam alerts and bogus firm notifications on the SRA website and through Twitter,
- make sure you verify the identity of the firm of solicitors you are dealing with,
- if you are a company or LLP sign up to ‘Proof’, Companies House electronic filing of documents which is more secure than paper filing,
- verify ID of a firm using an online service such as Lawyer Checker.
If you have any concerns or suspicions about a law firm or solicitor, then be sure to report it immediately firstname.lastname@example.org