Criticised for having acted negligently – and then for passing the buck to her secretary – a lawyer has been found liable in the Eastern Cape High Court (Port Elizabeth) for the R1m her client lost to sophisticated online hackers. Ordering conveyancer and notary Lynette Volschenk to pay up, Judge Bantubonke Tokota said she had owed a duty to her client to safeguard his money.

Tokota ordered Volschenk, director of Lynett@Law, to cover the costs of the court action. The Herald reports Ben Jurgens and his wife slapped Volschenk with the civil suit after they lost the proceeds of the sale of their Uitenhage property in a phishing scam in December 2017.

Hackers intercepted e-mails between Jurgens and the Uitenhage law firm, supplied alternative banking details and then walked away with R967 510.

‘The attorneys’ profession is an honourable profession which demands complete reliability and integrity from the members thereof,’ Tokota said. ‘A client who entrusts his affairs to an attorney must be able to be assured that the attorney concerned is honourable and can be trusted to manage his affairs.’

It had been argued in the High Court that factors such as a slight change in an e-mail address, suspicious proof of banking details and a change in the tone and manner of writing in correspondence purporting to be from Jurgens, should have raised alarm bells.

Or, at the very least, counsel said Volschenk should have picked up the phone to verify the new bank details before transferring such a large amount of cash. ‘It was incumbent upon her to verify the sudden change in the bank account.’

He said the account details had been furnished and then changed in such a short period of time that this should have raised eyebrows.

Full report in The Herald (subscription needed)