Property Fraud is on the rise — partly due to the increasing influence of the Internet. There were more than three million recorded cases of property fraud in 2017 alone. And buyers and sellers need to be aware of the risks.
The nature of the problem is changing rapidly. The scammers continue to conjure new ways to fool people into parting with their assets.
Whether you own property, rent it, or are in the market for a new home, you’re at risk of property fraud. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the problem.
What is property fraud?
Property fraud is a broad term used to describe the act of dishonestly acquiring a person’s assets through the use of a home, business premises or land.
The issue now takes many forms. Some scammers steal personal details to remortgage property. Others create elaborate equity release schemes that are designed purely to steal. Sadly, the authorities are struggling to keep up with the changing nature of this burning issue.
There are currently three major types of property fraud in operation today:
Sophisticated criminal gangs scour property markets for vulnerable people selling their homes. Then, at a crucial stage for a house sale, the gang contacts the buyer, pretending to be a solicitor or conveyancer.
The fraudsters then trick the individual into sending the cash to them — instead of the vendor’s representatives. This particular scam is often initiated through the hacking of an email account.
Fraudsters contact people to invite them to invest in property schemes. The schemes range from new developments to the renovation of derelict properties. Once the money changes hands, the fraudsters vanish.
Fraudsters pose as homeowners to remortgage their property. They do this by acquiring personal details about the victim, often done digitally. But some fraudsters resort to crawling through trash for old bank statements and other financial documents.
Who does property fraud affect?
We’re all at risk from these property fraudsters. However, some of us are more vulnerable than others. For example, gangs regularly target the elderly, as well as owners who live abroad. Other at-risk groups include those with mortgage-free properties, empty properties, and people renovating their homes.
Like all fraudsters, property scammers look for people who are vulnerable to attack. They prey on those who find it difficult to defend themselves.
How do I know I’m a target?
There are several tell-tale signs of a property scam — here are just a few of the most common:
- First, you received a surprise letter from your solicitor.
- The offer you’ve received seems too good to be true.
- Next, you’ve been invited to a presentation about a property investment scheme.
- Third, you’ve been asked for money to arrange a viewing for your home.
- Finally, a solicitor or conveyancer asked you to transfer money to an unknown account.
There are several things you can do if you think you’re a target for fraud. First, call the police, or report the incident to Action Fraud. You can do this online or by phone. The Land Registry also has a property fraud hotline, which you can reach by calling 0300 0067030.
What can I do to protect myself from property fraud?
It’s important to stay vigilant, as property fraudsters are constantly thinking of new scams. Take the following steps as a bare minimum:
- Keep in regular contact with elderly relatives and vulnerable people in your life.
- Question every email you receive, and never respond to it by clicking a link within the message.
- Ask a friend or relative to look after your financial affairs when you’re away.
- Never hand over cash without checking the request is coming from a legitimate source.
- Destroy all financial paperwork before throwing it away.
Trust your instincts if you’re in any doubt or if you sense something isn’t right.