Homeowners and buyers are at risk of falling victim to property fraud – however, there are steps you can take to minimise this risk and ensure that the fraudsters don’t win.
What Is Property Fraud?
Property fraud is when someone illegally tries to gain ownership of a property before either selling or re-mortgaging it and stealing the money.
Illegally gaining ownership of a property is usually done in one of two ways:
- By pretending to be the registered owner of the property
- By using forged documents to transfer the property into their name
Property Fraud Types
Property fraud can take many forms as fraudsters try new and ever more sophisticated means of stealing people’s money.
As a guide, the main property fraud types include:
- A fraudster sells a property by impersonating the legal owner
- A fraudster convinces a property buyer to transfer money into their account rather than the legal owner’s account
- A company promises to buy your home very quickly but then drops the purchase price significantly at the last minute
- A property investment that is not what it seems
Are You At Risk Of Property Fraud?
According to the Gov.uk website, you are more at risk of falling victim to property fraud if any of the following scenarios apply to you:
- Your ID has been stolen
- Your property is mortgage free
- You rent your property out
- Your property is stood empty
- You live overseas
- Your property is not registered with HM Land Registry (HMLR)
How Is Property Fraud Committed?
HMLR has an online service and you can download digital records of your property’s title from the website if the property was bought or mortgaged after 1998 – however, fraudsters can also use it to find out who owns a property and what their correspondence address is.
Sometimes, details such as the owner’s signature is available to see on documents online on HMLR’s website.
Once a fraudster has the right information, potentially your ID could be stolen and used to move your property into their name.
Alternatively, a property fraudster could be a tenant of the property or intercept the post delivered to a common area in a block of flats.
How Can You Prevent Property Fraud Being Committed?
There are many ways you can protect yourself from property fraud and reduce the risk of falling victim to a fraudster, including the following steps:
Register With HMLR
If your property is not already registered with HMLR it is worth completing the registration process – a conveyancing solicitor can help with this.
Compensation is far less likely if your property isn’t registered and you become a victim of property fraud.
Stay Alert With HMLR
HMLR offers a free property alert service you can sign up for, which notifies you if any searches or applications have been carried out against your property. This enables you to take action, if necessary, before actual property fraud is committed.
Restrict Your Property’s Title
You can request HMLR to put a restriction on your property’s title deeds. This stops HMLR from registering a sale or mortgage on your property until your conveyancing solicitor confirms you made the application.
To place a restriction on the property is free if you own it but don’t live there or costs £40 if you live in the property.
Protect Yourself From Email Hacking
A fraudster can intercept emails between a home buyer and a conveyancing solicitor – and then change the bank details within the correspondence to ensure the purchase funds are transferred by the buyers to the fraudster’s account.
Make sure the bank details you have been given are the same as those sent in the post, and it’s a good idea to not use public Wi-Fi as this can be more easily hacked. Always use a safe password on your email accounts too.
Your solicitor should offer a service called Lawyer Checker too, that provides reassurance to conveyancing solicitors. The site lets you check if another solicitor’s or individual’s bank account details are correct. You should always verify your solicitor’s bank details by telephone during any conveyancing transaction.
Be Wary Of Property Investment Offers
There are different types of property investment scams, including land banking where land is offered at a higher price with a promise of greater return when planning is in place; and buy to let scams where rented property is said to offer a regular rental income but in reality, may be empty or in need of repair.
Before going ahead with a property investment offer, make sure you carry out due diligence on the property first, viewing it and finding out details such as granted planning permission and any recent changes to the title deed. Always seek independent legal advice before committing to an investment.
How We Can Help You With Property Fraud Protection
Our professional property lawyers are here to assist you with all property-related queries – and this includes guidance on property fraud protection and support if you fall victim to a fraudster.
HMLR has a property fraud line you can call if the worst happens and a fraudster commits property fraud against you – call them on 0300 006 0478 or email email@example.com
Whether it’s help with the registration process to register your property with HMLR or assistance if someone has gained ownership of your property and sold it, we can provide support and advice at every step of the way to ensure the matter is resolved as swiftly and stress-free as possible.