Property fraud in the UK is on the rise as fraudsters use increasingly sophisticated ways to target home owners. As July is Scam Awareness Month, we take a look at how you can protect yourself from potential property fraud.

What is property fraud?

A recent case has seen a fraudster purporting to be the owner of a property, and using a solicitor to sell the property. In fact, the actual owner knew nothing of the sale at all! The firms involved had acted honestly and reasonably, and all law firms have systems and checks in place to verify the identity of parties. Unfortunately, this was not enough to deter the sophisticated scammer. As a result, conveyancing solicitors and estate agents have been put on high alert to look out for signs of property fraud.

Am I at risk?

Some home owners are more vulnerable than others. Therefore, it is crucial that if you own a property which is it at risk, you take action now and follow the advice issued by the Land Registry.
The following properties are at a higher risk as they are more attractive to fraudsters:

  • Unregistered properties. Most properties in the UK are registered. However, there are a number of unregistered properties remaining (where the property has not been sold or re-mortgaged since 1998).
  • Mortgage-free properties
  • Empty properties
  • Tenanted properties
  • Properties where the owner lives overseas

What can I do to prevent fraud?

There are a number of ways in which you can protect your property from fraud:

  • Keep your identity safe

It is simple for fraudsters to forge identity documents. Keep them safe and do not leave important documents lying around.

  • Register your property

As mentioned above, unregistered properties are at more risk because the deeds to the property are kept by the owner or the bank and there is no evidence of ownership at the Land Registry. The Land Registry fee to register a property is £30 – £680, depending on the property value. Our property team can apply to register the property for you.

  • Sign up to property alerts

Once the property is registered you can sign up for a free alerts service with the Land Registry. They will inform you if there is any activity involving your property including any applications to change the register or mortgages/charges. Although this will not prevent the fraud, it will notify you so you can take action before it is too late.

  • Register a restriction

You may register a restriction against the title requiring a solicitor or conveyancer to certify that you have made the application. This means that nobody can deal with the property on your behalf and your solicitor would take extra precaution in meeting you in person to verify your identity.

 Sending and receiving money

Another risk on the rise over recent years is the interception of bank details and diversion of funds. Fraudsters have been known to intercept emails between solicitors and clients and change the bank details. The fraudster may also send an email purporting to be your solicitor and ask for completion money to be sent to an account which is of course the fraudster’s account.
Solicitors are on high alert to such scams, and will have procedures in place to protect you. Your solicitor will normally advise you on the procedure in place for sending bank account details. However if you are unsure you should always call and check any details before sending any money.
If you are a home owner or you are selling or buying a property, make sure you are vigilant to spot signs of fraud. If in doubt, always check with your solicitor.
property fraud