Fire, flooding, extreme winds. All these things spring to mind when you consider the potential threats to property. But there are other threats you might not have considered, and property fraud is one of them.

It’s a crime that deprives rightful owners of their property and robs unsuspecting purchasers of their cash.

What is property fraud?

Property is usually the most valuable asset people own. It can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and can therefore be an attractive target for fraudsters. There are several types of property fraud. The most common is where criminals attempt to sell or mortgage a property by impersonating the owner. Criminals often target properties where there is no mortgage and the owner lives elsewhere.

Criminals also target properties that are in the process of being bought and sold. By hacking, phishing or confidence trickery, fraudsters may intercept the money that is being transferred from buyer to seller as it passes through the hands of conveyancing lawyers.

Am I at risk? Who is most at risk from property fraud?

Anyone who owns a property or is in the process of buying a home could become a target of a property fraud scam. However, some owners are more at risk than others. Figures show that fraudsters are more likely to target mortgage-free properties, especially when they are empty, being refurbished, or occupied by tenants rather than the owner. Criminals are also more likely to target properties that are not registered with Land Registry – that’s properties that haven’t changed hands or being re-mortgaged since 1998 – or properties whose owners live overseas.

What can I do to protect my property?

protect-from-property-fraudSign up to the Land Registry Property Alert Service

Check that all your properties are registered with the Land Registry and sign up to get property alerts. This service will email you if someone applies to change the register of your property, for example, if someone tries to use your property for a mortgage. This will not automatically block any changes to the register but forewarned is forearmed; you’ll be able to protect your property before recovering it becomes both expensive and tricky.

You can get alerts for up to 10 properties – there’s no fee.

Put a restriction on your title

Putting anti-fraud restrictions on your properties will stop HM Land Registry registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you. This is free is you are a company owning property or a private owner who does not live at the property. If you live at the property you can still apply for a restriction but it will cost you £40.

For information about how to apply for a restriction go to the gov.uk website.

Be aware during the buying process

Criminals can also try to intercept money that is being transferred from buyer to seller. You can reduce the risk by:

  • Choosing your conveyancer/solicitor carefully. Make sure they are registered with Law Society or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
  • Read everything you are sent by your conveyancer very carefully. Bank details you were provided with by post at the outset will not change.
  • If you receive the solicitors/conveyancer’s bank details by email, phone the company and make sure they are correct.
  • Be wary if you are being pushed to proceed quickly. Fraudsters often use this tactic to catch you off guard and prevent you from having the time to check them out.

If you think you may be the victim of property fraud, you should:

Contact the HM Land Registry property fraud team on 0300 006 7030 or email reportafraud@landregistry.gov.uk

Contact a legal professional such as a solicitor or Citizens Advice and Action Fraud.

Property owners usually manage to recover their property, even though it’s a difficult process. Duped buyers are often the ones who lose money. The law is now beginning to blame the buyer’s solicitors for failing to spot the fraud. This gives buyers more security and lawyers even more responsibility.

Worried?

There’s no need to be. You simply need to make sure you’ve done what you can to prevent property fraud. If you’re a landlord in need of more guidance, we can help landlords in Islington, Stoke Newington, Newington Green, and Highbury. Get in touch.