The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has issued guidance for the public on how to help ensure the law firm they choose to use is genuine.
There have been a number of fake firms discovered in recent years and while this is not seen as a widespread problem, the SRA has produced information that should reassure potential clients that the law firms they come into contact with are who they say they are. If anyone is taken in by a bogus firm, they could hand over large sums of money for legal services work that was never going to be carried out, the effects of which could be devastating.
In some cases the conmen are pretending to set up branches of legitimate law firms, but listing business addresses that are merely empty offices that have been rented out.
The SRA publishes alerts about any such operations it finds out about at www.sra.org.uk/consumers.
The SRA has now also produced a set of tips for the public to help them verify the firm they want to use is genuine. There is also a video to help consumers further.
David Middleton, SRA executive director, said: "It's a criminal offence under the Solicitors Act 1974 for anyone to call themselves a solicitor or act as a solicitor if they are not in fact authorised to practise, and we will consider prosecution if we catch anyone doing so. We've had a number of bogus firms in operation in recent years and while it's not something that could be described as a spate, we still want to protect the public from falling foul of any such scams.
"If someone engages a bogus firm for conveyancing work, for example, they might hand over tens of thousands of pounds, only to discover their money has been stolen. So we've produced this guidance and video to try to prevent that happening."
The guidance states that a genuine solicitor will appear on the roll of solicitors, which the SRA administers, and the SRA will be able to give you the roll number on request. The unique number of every firm regulated by the SRA should also appear on any firm's letterheads and notepaper.
A good place for the public to start checking if someone is a solicitor is by searching the Law Society's online directory of solicitors at www.lawsociety.org.uk/findasolicitor.
Anyone wanting to double-check a solicitor is genuine, or if you think you are dealing with a bogus solicitor, you should contact the SRA immediately on 0870 606 2555.
The advice and video are available at www.sra.org.uk/bogus-solicitors.