Property fraud seems to be on the increase. Clutton Cox’s Paul Hajek takes a look at some of the ways fraudsters might try to get the better of you whether you’re moving house or not.
First of all, what type of fraud should you be on the lookout for?
This is where the fraudsters try to “steal” your property by pretending to be the owner. Or, you might find you have a mortgage registered against you, which you didn’t take out.
Deposit Redirection Fraud
This involves a computer hacker monitoring email communications between a solicitor and a client. The fraudster then hacks into the solicitor’s email and send the client as email advising their bank account details have changed. The scammers give the details of the “new” account for the deposit and/or completion monies to be sent.
Bogus Law Firms
Fraudsters are now posing as law firms – either by setting up an entirely bogus firm or a bogus branch of an established firm – to get their hands on the proceeds from a house sale.
Posing as both the seller and their firm of solicitors, once the purchase monies (which can include mortgage funds) are released to the “seller’s solicitors” on completion day, the bogus law firm disappears with the money.
Are You Vulnerable To Property Fraud?
There are six vulnerabilities to property fraud of which to be aware.
- Your identity has been stolen
- You rent out your property
- You live overseas
- Your property is empty
- There is no mortgage on your property
- Your property is unregistered at the Land Registry.
How To Secure Against Property Fraud
- Make sure your property is registered and if not, ask your conveyancing solicitor to register it for you. (The benefit is that if you are the innocent victim of fraud the Land Registry will compensate you.)
- Most importantly keep your contact details up to date. You can now have more than one address placed on your property register, so why not put down your conveyancing solicitor’s address as well for extra piece of mind?
- Sign up for property alerts with the Land Registry. These will inform you if someone applies to change the register of your property. You can sign up hereand you can do so for free up to a maximum of 10 properties. Please note you will still need, once alerted, to contact the Land Registry that the application should be stopped.
- Get in touch with the Land Registry and request a restriction on the property, so that no one can register a purchase without written consent form either you or your conveyancing firm. You will need to enlist the help of your conveyancer for this one as an extra layer of security.
- Consider Identity Fraud Protection from a credit agency such as Experian. Experian will alert you if someone has accessed or is attempting to change your credit status.
How To Avoid Being Duped By Deposit Redirection Fraud
Both lawyers and clients need to be vigilant with all emails. If you receive a last-minute bank account amendment email, make sure you double check with your solicitors – preferably visit the office or if that’s not feasible, speak on the phone with your conveyancing solicitor.
At Clutton Cox we would never send you last-minute emails informing you that our account details have changed.
- We never deal with bank details by email.
- We send a letter at the start of your transaction informing you that:
- We will not change our bank details during your move.
- Communication is key. If you are unsure about anything, talk to your Conveyancer.
- Face-to-face communication is the most secure way.
- You can never be too careful in these circumstances; there’s a lot of money at stake.
How to Avoid a Bogus Law Firm
- Check out the ‘Find a Solicitor’ tool on this website
- Check the law firm has the Conveyancing Quality Scheme accreditation. This is designed to make sure all conveyancing firms are meeting consistent standards of practice. (Read more about that here.)
- Research your chosen law firm. Make sure the branch you are using is a legitimate branch of the firm. Call another branch to ask if you are unsure.
- Wherever possible, use a firm of conveyancers or conveyancing solicitors who have been recommended to you by friends or family. If someone else has used them and had not experienced any issues, the chances are they are reputable!
And a few more tips to keep you safe
- Ensure that you lock your computer every time you leave it unattended; if only for a moment.
- Only use your primary email account for correspondence with people you know and trust.
- Don’t over share your life on social media. Announcing on Facebook that you’re moving home could be ammunition for the scammers. Better to wait until you’ve actually moved to tell the world.
- Avoid using public wifi systems to check emails when house purchases are being made. Fraudsters can easily hack into vulnerable Wi-Fi systems.
- Make sure you have strong passwords for your accounts and have anti-virus and anti-malware installed on your devices.
If you suspect a property fraud, ring the Land Registry fraud hotline on 0300 006 7030 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm).
Is there a happy ending?
Online and email fraud is a regrettable fact of life.
But with extra vigilance and following a strict routine you can keep your money safe.
Ensure you do not fall foul of the scammers and become an unwitting participant in a very scary and personal horror story.
If both conveyancers and clients are aware of the potential dangers and you use your conveyancing solicitor as an extra layer of defence, take the right precautions, then we can fight property and deposit redirection fraud together.