You may have heard in the news that there is an increase in property fraud.  Given that a person’s property is most likely to be their biggest asset, people do relatively little to prevent property fraud, it is little wonder criminals are targeting property owners.

So, what is it? 

Property fraud takes a number of forms.  Criminals can make the most from posing as the owner of a property and then pocketing the sale proceeds.  Usually by the time the fraud is discovered the criminal has done a runner and the buyer is left out of pocket. Criminals can also try to intercept proceeds by sending fraudulent emails informing you that your conveyancer’s bank details have changed.  This is most common where email is used as a primary means of contact.

Who is at risk?

All property owners are at risk, however, it is often more prevalent with high value properties, empty properties, tenanted properties, mortgage free properties and unregistered properties.  Occasionally, it is actually the tenants that pose as the Landlord!

How do you minimise risk?

There are a number of steps you can take.  If you used to occupy the property you are now letting out it is essential that you get your mail redirected.  Financial mail, if intercepted, can give a criminal plenty of information to start the fraud.

The Land Registry offers a property alert service (https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/).  You can monitor up to ten properties at a time for free and you do not have to be the registered owner.  This could be useful where a relative’s property may be vacant for a period of time owing to illness, death or an extended vacation. Registering for an alert will not stop a property sale but you will get notice that things are happening and so you will be able to take steps to resolve the situation quicker.

If you are still concerned (perhaps you are a landlord of a high worth property without a mortgage) then you may wish to consider registering a restriction against the property.  This would mean that a property sale could not go through without your consent. You may have to pay a fee to register the restriction to the Land Registry depending on the circumstances.  Unless you are confident doing these things yourself you may also have to pay legal fees (although you may find your solicitor is willing to add the restriction to the application paperwork when you purchase the property).

Should you have any questions about the steps you may be able to take it is important that you discuss them with your conveyancer so that you can ensure you have taken sufficient steps for your situation.

Should I be worried?

Overall, the risk of property fraud is low but it is on the increase.  You should check out the credentials of the conveyancer handling your transaction.  Do they work for the firm they suggest they do? Is the firm bona fide and registered with the Law Society?  Always BEFORE, sending any money, call the firm to double check the bank details.  Check these against the ones you have already been given, or, if you haven’t had them previously call the conveyancer or their secretary and double check them. Conveyancing firms are aware of the fraud risks and will not mind your double checks!

Finally, should you have any concerns, or believe you may have been the victim of property fraud you can either talk to your conveyancer, estate agent (they are likely to know the reputable local legal firms) or you can contact the Land Registry Fraud Line direct on 0300 006 7030 from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday or email propertyalert@landregistry.gov.uk.