How to avoid property transaction fraud
Maisie Bonfield 02-11-2021
A recent BBC news article has highlighted how easy it is for fraudulent property transactions to take place, without property owners being made aware, until it is too late.
Reverend Mike Hall found himself a victim of property fraud after receiving a phone call from a concerned neighbour this summer. Rev Hall returned from working away to find a new owner had gutted his home and a builder had started renovations. The BBC confirmed that the fraudulent transaction took place when a fraudster stole Rev Hall’s identity by obtaining a duplicate driver’s licence, which he used to set up bank accounts. The solicitors involved in the conveyancing of Rev Hall's property have confirmed that they are assisting in the current fraud investigation.
It is not yet clear how this transaction was able to go ahead. However, this type of property fraud is usually facilitated by owners not having the correct preventions in place, and/or solicitors not carrying out correct practice procedures and policies. However, skilled fraudsters can deceive even vigilant solicitors, so we must all be aware of the signs.
Property owners most at risk of this type of fraud are those who work away or are not living at the property for whatever reason, those who do not have a mortgage secured against the title, absent landlords and those who have not yet registered their ownership at the Land Registry.
How individuals can protect against property fraud
There are a number of ways in which you, as the proprietor, can protect your property from this kind of fraud:
- Sign up to get property alerts – The Land Registry will notify you when something changes on your Property register so that you can take action.
- Place a restriction on your title – For a small fee, this will restrict any change being made to your title without the Land Registry receiving a certificate from your conveyancer or solicitor confirming that the change is being made by you, the proprietor.
- Ensuring your address for service is up to date – If you are a landlord and have recently rented out your property, you should ensure the Land Registry have the correct address for you so that you can be contacted by Land Registry, if necessary.
- Registering your property with the Land Registry – It is important that the Land Registry have your details registered to reduce the possibility of an individual posing as you and selling your home, or even registering themselves as the proprietor. If you are yet to register your property, and would like a quote, please contact us.
How solicitors should protect against property fraud
Solicitors have well-established policies and procedures to follow to protect you and your property from this kind of fraud. This involves the following:
- Identification procedures for clients – carrying out the correct anti-money laundering abd client identification checks by obtaining photographic and address identification for a prospective seller, meeting them in person (or using an alternative form of video call), and following up with correspondence to the vendor's address, to ensure they reside at the property being sold.
- Appropriate checks on the vendor's solicitor – one way fraudsters carry out their acts is by impersonating a conveyancer or solicitor from a legitimate firm. By carrying out various checks not only on the firm, but also the individual, we reduce the opportunities for fraudulent transactions to take place.
- Instincts and expert knowledge– having the knowledge to notice when something isn’t quite right and knowing when to ask the right questions to expose fraudsters, is incredibly important. For example someone has owned a property for 20 years but looks or sounds young, when a seller has limited knowledge of the property being sold or when they appear in a great rush to get the transaction completed, can all be red flags to an experienced conveyancing practitioner.
- Sending proceeds abroad – We will not send funds to an overseas bank account.
At Samuels Solicitors, we hold the Conveyancing Quality Mark from the Law Society, meaning that we adhere to the strongest possible policies and procedures, to protect our conveyancing clients.
Have you been a victim of property fraud?
The Land Registry have a fraud prevention team dedicated to helping property owners who think they have been a victim of fraud. You should contact them immediately if you think there is an issue with the ownership of your property.
If you believe your conveyancing solicitors have allowed a fraud to take place, you may well have a claim against them for compensation. We have many years of experience in helping clients who have been let down by solicitors. Contact one of our expert conveyancers or expert professional negligence solicitors, to find out how we can help.