The average value of a UK home is now well over £200,000. Due to its sheer value, it is the prime target of fraudsters who are always on the lookout for making quick money by unfair means.
With the frequent use of online technology for sale and purchase, fraudsters have been able to target property owners in increasingly sophisticated and diverse ways. People who are more vulnerable than the rest such as senior citizens are usually the prime targets but property fraud is something that can happen to any person.
If you’re a property owner or are currently involved in the process of purchasing a property, you should be aware of the risks. Being aware of these risks can make a person take the necessary steps in order to minimise the risk of becoming a victim to such a scam. In this article we explain what a property fraud is and then list the actions that you can take to protect yourself.
What is a Property Fraud?
When a person tries to acquire a property which is not owned by them by unfair means it is known as a property fraud. Certain property frauds also involve a person trying to get a mortgage on the property which actually belongs to someone else. A popular way in which these frauds are executed is by stealing the identity of the victim and using the stolen information to falsify documents.
Once the documents have been forged the criminal can pocket the funds, obtain a mortgage on the property or transfer the property’s ownership to themselves. If the owner of the property isn’t well aware about thefts of these kinds, their properties can be sold from right under their nose. The owner wouldn’t even realise that such a fraud had taken place until they arrive at the point where they are selling the property themselves, only to realise that it has already been sold.
There are certain properties that are more prone to theft than the others and these include the following:
- If you’re the owner of a property but have been using it as a to-let property and tenants have been living in the house for a long time now.
- Properties that have been left unoccupied after purchase with the owners located in different cities or countries.
- Properties whose owners have passed away and now belong to a trust or long term residential care.
- Properties that do not have a mortgage attached to them are also easy targets.
Conveyancing scam is the most common type of property fraud which can happen during a property transaction. The fraudsters impersonate themselves to be solicitors and before the transaction is completed they intercept the transfer of funds.
It is usually carried out by sending an email to the purchaser falsely notifying them about a change of payment method. They are then asked to transfer the funds to an alternative bank account. This usually goes unnoticed by the actual seller until they get in touch with their solicitor which may take a few days. By the time the seller realises that they have been a victim to a conveyancing scam, the thieves have already carried out the theft.
Hacking has now become a commonplace occurrence and it is being used by property fraudsters to hack the email accounts of the seller’s solicitor to send fraudulent emails to the buyer. Any negligence on the part of buyer to confirm the change of payment methods can lead to money being deposited in a criminal’s bank account.
What steps can be taken to prevent Property Frauds?
The best way to secure yourself and your property from a property fraud is to register your property with HM Land Registry. If the property has been mortgaged or purchased after 1998 then the property must already be listed with HMRC.
However, it is a good idea to confirm with HMRC if your property is registered with their Land Registry. If a property has not been officially registered with HMRC and falls victim to a property fraud, it may turn out to be quite difficult for you to get compensated for your losses.
Protecting yourself from Conveyancing Scams
If you wish to protect yourself from falling victim to a conveyancing scam, you must be vigilant. You should not easily trust an email that you have received asking you to deposit money into a bank account with which you are not familiar. If an email reads that the payment method has changed you should first confirm the change with your property consultant or seller. If you wish to protect your property after your death, it is advised that you write your own Will, using either a free will kit template or the services of a solicitor. Making a Will safeguards your property from such frauds long after you’re gone.