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Blog
Property Fraud: Everything you need to know
Help for first time sellers
05 February 2021

Property Fraud: Everything you need to know

Rosie Hamilton
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. What is property fraud?
  2. 2. Types of property fraud
  3. 3. Common signs of property fraud
  4. 4. Who is most at risk?
  5. 5. How to protect yourself from property fraud
  6. 6. What to do if you think you're a victim of property fraud

Estimates from the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that there were 4.4 million fraud offences committed in the last 12 months. Many of these related to online scams, or email hacking.

There are more sophisticated scams too - such as using personal details to remortgage a property without the owner knowing, or even transferring ownership to someone else. Many property fraudsters try and take advantage of the emotion and financial importance of moving house in order to manipulate their victims.

In this article we'll look at the most common types of fraud impacting home sellers in the UK, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you think you're a victim of property fraud.

What is property fraud?

'Property fraud' is a term that covers a whole range of nefarious activity connected to scams that occur during property transactions.

These can vary from: someone using the property transaction as a way to steal your personal information; to intercepting monetary transactions; to the illegal transfer of property ownership.

Types of property fraud

There are several kinds of property related fraud. As a property owner, the most common scams to watch out for include:

  • Email hacking

This type of property fraud occurs when a hacker intercepts emails between a conveyancer and their client. Usually they will alter any bank details shared so that the money from the transaction is sent to their account, instead of the intended recipient. Another version of this scam occurs when someone impersonates either the client or the conveyancer using a fake email address.

  • Pretending to be a buyer

This type of fraud is used in order to gain personal information about a seller or their property for future use. A fraudster might pose as a buyer and then withdraw from a previously agreed offer at the point where they would have to sign a contract.

  • Quick sale scams

There are a number of companies that claim they can buy your home for cash and complete within 28 days. However, only a small number of these are legitimate.

For more information on cash property buying companies - and how to spot the scams - check out this article.

  • Home hijacking

This fraud happens when someone poses as the owner of a property in order to sell it. Recent cases have involved tenants pretending to be the owner, and fraudsters targeting properties that they knew were empty.

  • Pretending to be a lender

This fraud occurs when someone pretends to be a mortgage lender. Usually they will offer the opportunity to renegotiate your current mortgage terms if certain upfront payments are made. This property fraud is designed to take advantage of those in particular financial distress.

Common signs of property fraud

Often the signs of property fraud can be quite subtle - particularly if you're targeted online. Your conveyancer and estate agent should both have training in how to spot and handle signs of property fraud, however it can pay to be vigilant at your end too.

If you notice any of the following, get in touch with your conveyancer to double check whether everything is in order:

  • Your conveyancer sends bank details by email, and does not confirm these details by post or phone too. If this occurs, make sure to phone your conveyancer to double check the details before you make any payments.

  • Your conveyancer sends an email to say their bank details have changed, but does not confirm these details by post or phone too. As above, it's vital to confirm these details in person before you make any payments.

  • If you feel like you're being pushed to proceed very quickly, particularly late on a Friday afternoon. This is a common property fraud tactic, because making someone feel rushed reduces the chance of proper verification checks taking place.

  • A buyer that comes forward with an excellent offer - particularly if you've been struggling to sell. If it seems too good to be true, it often is.

Who is most at risk?

Although property fraud can happen to anyone, there are certain people that are more vulnerable to these types of scams than others.

  • Owners that live overseas

  • Elderly owners

  • Mortgage-free properties

  • Empty properties

  • Tenanted properties

  • Properties undergoing redevelopment

How to protect yourself from property fraud

To increase your chances of a secure sale, follow these tips:

  • Don't send bank details by email

Always confirm personal information with your conveyancer directly, over the phone or in person.

  • Question unusual emails from professionals you're working with

If you're unsure about anything, don't feel embarrassed about double checking in person before you take further action, particularly if you're being asked to make a payment.

  • Find a trustworthy estate agent

Estate agents are trained to look out for signs of potential fraud, particularly any schemes to do with money laundering. They will vet potential buyers, and ask for relevant personal information - such as proof of finance - to weed out the potential threats from the serious buyers.

For extra security check whether an estate agent is a member of NAEA Propertymark (National Association of Estate Agents), or RICS (the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) before you decide to work with them. You may also prefer to work with a local estate agent, who you can meet in person, or communicate with regularly over the phone.

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  • Pick your conveyancer carefully

Because conveyancers handle all the legal aspects of transferring property ownership from one person to another, they play a vital role in preventing property fraud. They will be looking for signs of fraud that aren't immediately recognisable or accessible to you as the seller. For example, they will question the evidence a buyer relies on to prove their identity, comparing it with information on the electoral register and Land Registry. They'll also pay attention to any suspicious changes in financial information.

Make sure to choose a conveyancer with a good reputation for communication and trustworthiness.

For more information on finding a good conveyancer, check out this guide.

  • Register for the HM Land Registry Property Alert Service

The Land Registry offers the option to receive notifications by email whenever an official search or application is made against your property. This means you'll be in the know if anyone tries anything untoward, like applying to change the name of the registered owner. You'll then be able to get in touch with the Land Registry, and your conveyancer, to sort it out straight away.

Set up Land Registry property alerts here.

  • Put a restriction on your property title

Placing a restriction against your title is a more extreme way of protecting your property from fraud. Having a restrictions on your title prevents the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor confirms that the application was made by you.

These restrictions are free to set up if you don't live in the property (but you own it privately), or £40 if you're an owner-occupier.

You can set up a restriction on your property title here.

What to do if you think you're a victim of property fraud

If you believe you may be the victim of property fraud, it's important to get in touch with the Land Registry and your conveyancer as soon as possible.

You can also call the Land Registry's property fraud line: 0300 006 7030 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm), to talk to a specialist who will be able to advise on what you need to do next.

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