How To Protect Yourself From Property Fraud

Published: 25/07/2018

Fraud, especially in the property market, is becoming more and more common.

What sort of fraud are we talking about here? There are many ways fraudsters can strike. There have been cases of people selling houses they don’t actually own, for example. Others have bought new build homes that didn’t even exist… and never will!

In 2018 alone, the Land Registry stepped in to prevent a total of 279 scams, worth a total of £133m, according to figures obtained by a Daily Telegraph freedom of information request.

As it turns out, all a scammer really needs to get to work is an address - your address. That’s some pretty scary stuff!

Examples of property fraud

Different types of property fraud, or scams, could include:

  • Propertyfraudsters will offer you a ‘get rich quick’ investment deal, claiming it can turn you into a millionaire, which is in fact a scam. You’ll often be invited to attend a free presentation about making money from property investment. You might pay to do a seminar or course to teach you how to make money dealing in property. In most cases, this is a scam. If you have been invited to attend a course or seminar on property investment, especially if it’s by mail, thoroughly investigate it beforehand. Ask for references, accredited online reviews and evidence that the business is a real one.
  • Another common method, often via the above means, is that the scammers will offer you the opportunity to buy properties that aren’t yet built, at a discount. You might think property investment is a fast way to get rich quickly, so you invest some, maybe all, of your savings. Then, the land will turn out to be agricultural or derelict, unsuitable for development, or in some other way bound to have planning permission refused. As such, you’ll lose all the money you invested.
  • There is also such thing as buy-to-let fraud. Companies will offer to source, renovate and manage properties, claiming you’ll enjoy good returns from rental income. In practice, the properties are near-derelict and the tenants non-existent. Maybe the properties don’t even exist. You won’t make a dime!
  • Another even more scary type of property fraud is when fraudsters target properties where there is no mortgage or the owner lives elsewhere. They may attempt to sell or mortgage it to raise money without the owner’s knowledge or consent by impersonating the registered owner. Fraudsters may attempt to acquire ownership of a property either by using a forged document to transfer it into their own name, or by impersonating the registered owner. This sounds like something from a movie, but trust us, it’s happens.
  • That’s not to mention the many other subtle types of property scams. You may purchase a property, for example, thinking you can go about living in it day-to-day, when in fact it is a designated holiday home and cannot be permanently lived in.

Reducing your risk - avoiding scams and fraud

  1. You are at an increased risk of falling victim to property fraud if you live overseas and have unoccupied property in the country you’re not living in. The risk is even higher if your property isn’t mortgaged.

    If this is the case, have a friend or relative check your property regularly, or even employ a trusted housekeeper or some other type of staff, so there is an active flow of people coming and going from your property, so it’s not a target for scammers.

  2. You should also sign your propertyup the Land Registry Property Alert Service.

    That way, you’ll be notified if anybody tries to alter details of ownership and so forth.

  3. Apply to put a restriction on title deeds of your property.

    This stops the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a qualified property solicitor or conveyancer certifies the application was made by you.

  4. Ensure your property is registered with the HM Land Registry.

    Likewise, if you are purchasing a property (whether you’re a first time property buyer, buy-to-let investor or other type of seasoned buyer), check any properties you intend to purchase on the Land Registry first and ensure the name of the person who is selling the property to you is the same as the one listed on the Registry. If it’s not, find out why. If there is no explanation, alert the authorities!

  5. If you are buying a property, don’t even think about looking at listings on Gumtree or eBay!

    Scammers love these largely unregulated platforms!

  6. Be very wary of mail solicitations

    Claiming great returns, no matter how good they look. A good way to check up on a company is by seeing if it has a valid street address and landline number (call the number and check the address on Google Maps/Earth). Ask for business registration details.

  7. Never invest in a project until you see detailed plans for the site’s development.

    Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for references and talk to them. It’s best to cross-reference with as many people as possible. Find out where the land is and physically view it. Discover whether it has planning permission. If not, is it likely that it will be granted? Be smart and diligent.

  8. If you are concerned for any reason, immediately alert the Land Registry.

    They are specialist staff who can help you. Call the Property Fraud Line on 0300 006 7030. The line is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

  9. If you think you’ve already fallen victim to property fraud.

    Contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.

The right solicitor matters

The prevalence of property scams is just another reason why you must enlist the help of a reliable, experienced property solicitor if you are buying a property or selling a property. Experienced property solicitors and conveyancers know all the ‘tricks of the trade’ when it comes to property scams and fraud and will know if something isn’t quite right when you are dealing with buyers and sellers.

Why are we the best conveyancing solicitors for you?

GWlegal are a property solicitors based in Liverpool, specialising in buying or selling, remortgage, declaration of trust, bridging and buy-to-let landlords.

If you have a legal matter you wish to discuss don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 0345 373 3737 email us with your question.

Who are GWlegal? We’re a national firm with local values.

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Content correct at time of publication.

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