In October’s Law Society Gazette, it was reported that City firm, Bates Wells Braithwaite, fell victim of an attempted cyber-fraud in which photographs and details of several of its lawyers were stolen and displayed on a scam website.
The photographs were used on the fake website, with fraudsters changing the first names of the solicitors.
The scam website was only discovered when a staff member searched for her name online.
These scams are known as ‘copycat websites’ and are a common type of cyber-fraud. And UK law firms are becoming increasingly vulnerable to this type of criminal activity.
Most copycat websites duplicate government departments or local bodies and charge a large fee for a service which is provided for free or for a nominal cost by the State.
A real example of a copycat site is one that charges £15 to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) card, which can be done free of charge through the official NHS website.
Why would someone want to copy a law firm’s website?
There are several reasons a company may wish to copy your organisation’s website. If you have a well-established brand, a fraudulent company can copy your website content, design and themes. Individual solicitor profiles can also be stolen and used on bogus law firm’s websites.
What type of fraud do bogus law firm’s commit?
Fraudulent law firms swindle innocent consumers in several ways, the most common being:
Inheritance and Wills
In one common scam, fraudsters pose as solicitors and write to people saying they have inherited money from a long-lost relative. However, the unsuspecting client must pay a fee for details to be provided
According to The Mirror newspaper, one such case of this fraud saw £2,800 being demanded before an inheritance could be released. Fraudsters used the name Charles Gipson & Jose Owens Executive Chambers, a made-up law firm.
Previously criminals have used the names Patrick J Cusack & Co and Pearsons Solicitors, both genuine law firms, but changed the contact details so that they received any responses.
In this type of fraud, members of the public receive a call from a so-called solicitor who tells them they are entitled to receive compensation for a car accident.
They then ask for an advance fee to release the cash.
Mayer Brown International was a victim of a computer virus based fraud. Emails that purported to be from the company stated recipient were about to be evicted, and instructed the reader to open an attachment for detailed information – the attachment, of course, contained a virus.
The legitimate firm had nothing to do with the emails.
How to protect yourself from a copycat website being created
It is impossible to completely prevent website content and design being copied; however, there are certain steps you can take to protect your law firm’s brand and intellectual property from fraudsters:
- Display a copyright notice and state that copying your website’s content is prohibited. It may not stop a determined criminal, but it does make your business appear less of an easy target.
- Use code to disable the right-click function on images and/or text you do not wish to have copied.
- Reduce auto-copying spambots by using meta-tags to prevent them indexing your webpage and place content in ‘frames’ which cannot be seen by spam-bots.
- Watermark your images
- Use HTML protection software and make sure the website source code is secure.
- Utilise free software that forces anyone copying content from your website to provide a backlink. This allows your IT department to monitor who is replicating parts of your site.
Important: Some of these tips can reduce the Search Engine Optimisation of your website; therefore, it is crucial you receive expert advice before implementing any of these methods.
If you discover your website has been duplicated, contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) immediately. Contact the owner of the duplicate website (if you can find them), and alert them to the fact the content on their website is subject to copyright. If criminals are behind the coping of your website, cooperate with the SRA to have the duplicate site removed as soon as possible, so your good name is protected.
We have been helping legal professionals with professional disciplinary and regulatory hearings for over 20 years. If you have any questions relating to cyber-security or copycat websites, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry and I will soon be in touch.