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SRA urges consumers buying legal services to be 'scam aware'

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is supporting Scams Awareness Month, run by Citizens Advice and Trading Standards, by warning people about bogus solicitors who clone genuine firms to obtain money by deception.

The SRA regulates solicitors and providers of legal services in England and Wales in the public interest and takes action against solicitors who breach their Code of Conduct. However the regulator has seen an increase in this new trend over the past two years and has set up regular update alerts on bogus firms on the consumer section of its website.

This type of scam can take a number of different forms:

  • cold-calls using a bona fide firm's name which appear to originate in the UK, to try and obtain details from people in relation to claiming back PPI, or to offering to make a Personal Injury claim often where there are no grounds for a claim to be made.
  • unsolicited emails and letters appearing to be from a bona fide law firm but asking for payment in advance, or an "administration charge", in return for the release of monies supposedly held by a recognisable bank or government authority.

Key things to watch out for are:

  • a mismatch between the firm's and individuals' address and telephone and website details (e.g. a solicitor's name from a different law firm), or
  • the contact details for the firm are incorrect, relate to a different law firm or are fictitious (e.g. a building number that doesn't exist on the street quoted, or the street name doesn't match the post code quoted).
  • a mobile number with no landlines being available
  • whether the firm is registered at Companies House

Steve Wilmott, the SRA's Director of Intelligence and Investigations, said; "We will take action against anyone holding themselves out as a solicitor which is a criminal offence.

"The offenders however are extremely clever and we are urging both clients of legal services and solicitors' firms to be on their guard. Quite often firms themselves are not aware that their information is being used to deceive.”

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: "Scammers prey on people when they're at their most vulnerable. People can find themselves seriously out of pocket at the hands of a bogus law firm or phoney solicitor. It's important to take the time to carry out the necessary checks and balances to make sure the company or individual is legitimate.

"Through Scams Awareness Month we are helping people to protect themselves from scammers and urging anyone who spots a scam to report it. You can get advice about scams from our consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06, your local CAB or on adviceguide.org.uk.”

The SRA offers advice to consumers to check whether solicitors are genuine or not by taking note of the points above and use appropriate sources to check whether the individual is registered with the Law Society at Find a Solicitor or use the Check a Solicitors Record facility on the SRA's website where regulatory decisions are published.

Anyone suspecting malpractice should contact the SRA.

 

Note to editors

Find out more about the Citizens Advice Bureau Scam Awareness Month.
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