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Protecting yourself from property fraud

Due to the increasingly sophisticated tactics that are being used, more and more people are becoming victims of property fraud. The high value of homes often makes them targets of the common fraudster.

In this article we’ll explain the main kinds of fraud and what you can do to best protect yourself.

Who’s at risk?

Those at risk are often those who are in the process of buying a home, although there are some factors that make certain people better targets.

Properties that are empty or rented out are often more susceptible to fraud. Those that aren’t registered with the Land Registry and those that aren’t mortgaged are also higher risks.

Unregistered properties are likely those that haven’t been sold or even mortgaged since 1990 – you can check the register here if you’re unsure. If there’s any information that’s incorrect, the Land Registry needs to be notified ASAP.

What to do if you think you’re at risk

If you believe you might be at risk, we advise signing up to Land Registry’s Property Alerts. You’ll get email alerts when searches and applications are files against the property that you want to monitor.  

So essentially, if an individual attempts to make changes to a property you’ve registered, a notification is sent to you via email. An example would be someone applying to change the registered owner of your property.

It’s also worthwhile for landlords as well; since it lets them keep an eye on up to ten properties at once – for free!

Get restricted

Go a step further in protecting your property by applying for a restriction on your home’s title deeds. This prevents the Land Registry from approving a sale or mortgage on your home, unless they are made aware by your conveyancer or solicitor that the application was made by you. Keep in mind that you have to pay £40 for the restriction if you live in the property. If you don’t but still own it, it’s free.

The scams

There are various types of scams that individuals fall for around selling their home.

Investment scams

There are an abundance of investment scams out there that involve fraudsters convincing you to hand over money in exchange for a suspiciously high return.

  1. Buy-to-let – whilst the concept of buy-to-let itself isn’t a scam, beware when companies ask you to invest in properties that are rented and claim you’ll get a good return on rental income, when in reality the home is unoccupied and in bad condition.
  2. Land banking – this is when a particular plot of land that’s meant to be coined as an investment goldmine, but it turns out not being able to be built on or not exist whatsoever.

Before investing, ensure you complete the right research. Stay sceptical of mail marketing that claims great returns, no matter how good they appear. Check out the company as well. Do they have a real street address and phone number? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t invest until:

  • You’ve seen where the land is
  • You’ve asked the locals questions about its history
  • You’ve seen detailed plans for the site’s development
  • You’ve found out whether planning permission has been applied for or granted

Email scams

Fraudsters often attempt to hijack emails between the buyer and solicitor and change the bank details so then the money goes into their accounts instead.

Consider doing the following to reduce this risk:

  • If you only receive the solicitor’s and conveyancer’s bank details by email and not through the post as well, call them and ensure they are correct.
  • Carefully read anything sent to you by your conveyancers.
  • Don’t send your bank details over email – we recommend calling them directly or bringing them into their office.
  • Take great care when choosing your conveyancer/solicitor. Ensure they are genuine by referencing the lists created by the Law Society or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
  • Fraudsters often push you to act fast – this is a common tactic since it cuts corners and just uses email.

Homeowners who are concerned that their home is subject of fraudulent activity should immediately contact the Land Registry and talk to one of their trained staff for proper guidance – you can call their Property Fraud team on 0200 006 7030 from 8:30am – 5pm Monday to Friday.