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Sale Proceeds Pirated from Notaire

Tuesday 04 May 2021

A British couple had the proceeds of their house sale sent by the notaire to an email hacker.

In an extraordinary incident, in 2020 June and Lionel Parker, two British septuagenarians, sold their house in Normandy, for the sum of €135,000.

Due to Covid restrictions they were unable to attend completion of the sale, so they granted power of attorney to the notaires office.

Sale completion duly took place, after which the couple exchanged a mail with the notaire confirming the details of their bank account into which the proceeds should be transferred.

June Parker told us that "Several weeks later the notaire emailed us to advise that the transfer of the funds had taken place. However, no monies were showing in our account, so we asked the notaire for confirmation of the payment. The notaire duly provided details, including the IBAN number used, which was to a different account in a different bank."

The notaire also showed them an e-mails she had received, purporting to be from them, changing the IBAN number of their bank account.

The mail was actually from a third-party who had hacked the notaires e-mail account posing as the couple.

The hackers mail to the notaire explained the change of the IBAN number due to ‘tax reasons’.

The mail was accepted as genuine by the notaire, who duly acted on it, without reference back to the couple.

The couple told us that "We protested to the notaire on several occasions. She either failed to respond or seemed uninterested in our circumstances, claiming that the proceeds had been sent to the correctly."

Eventually, after sustained pressure, the notaire acknowledged their e-mail system had been hacked and that the funds had not been sent to their account with Nationwide Building Society, but to an account with Lloyd's Bank.

As a result, the notaire passed the case to their insurer.

Several months passed, during which the insurer stalled the claim, stating that they were unable to accept it due to a lack of verified information from the UK bank.

In the meantime, the couple were obliged to move into rental accommodation, in the process engaging an avocat to represent them, as well as making representation to the professional association of notaires the Chambre departmental de notaires.

Finally, after 7 months of battling with the insurer, the claim was accepted and the couple received their sale proceeds.

However, the process cost them nearly €15,000 in rent and fees and other expenses.

Comment

As dramatic case as this might be, it is extremely rare; indeed, the first such case that has come to our attention.

Although there is always a risk in transferring funds to a notaire, the overwhelming majority of notaires would be unwilling to accept any other form of settlement, and in many cases it would be difficult to put in place, due to the need to clear any mortgage that may be on the property before it can be transferred to the new owner.

Moreover, payment of the purchase price direct to the seller is a greater risk. Notaires are under substantial legal obligations and, as we have seen, they have professional insurance in place to guarantee the security of the funds held by them.

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