Property Scams and How to Avoid Them

Property Scams when Buying a House

Property will likely be the most expensive thing we will ever buy, so no wonder this transaction is a target for fraudsters. Moving home is stressful, time consuming and involves endless paperwork. When we are busy and under pressure like this we are particularly vulnerable to fraud and can easily miss the signs of a scam

With this in mind we researched the most common types of property scams and took a closer look at how you can avoid them.

Friday Afternoon Fraud

As the name implies, this scam usually happens on a Friday afternoon before your move date, and involves the scammer hacking into your or your conveyancer’s emails. They will call (on said Friday afternoon) posing as your solicitor instructing you to transfer your deposit into a particular bank account. They may even have created a fake email address strikingly similar to that of your solicitor’s (but with a few minor character changes) to correspond with you on, to make the fraud even more realistic. What makes this scam even worse is that it often isn’t spotted until the following Monday morning, making it that much harder to trace.

This scam may take months in the making, with the criminals waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike, but it is easily avoided if you make the right checks and take some simple precautions. Keep an eye out for any changes to your solicitors email addresses, no matter how tiny. Do a thorough check before transferring any money into any account. First transfer £1 then call your conveyancers registered landline and confirm they have this nominal sum. Once confirmed you are safe to transfer the rest.

Title Fraud

Fake buyers can commit title fraud by pretending to make an offer on your property then withdraw it just before completing. The scammer can then use the information they have gathered during the buying process to change the title deeds of the property into their name and apply for loans using your home as collateral.

If the seller hasn’t spotted that their title deeds have been changed then the potential buyer could be at risk too. Most worrying of all, once in their name, scammers can try and sell your property without you even knowing. Most at risk of being a victim of title fraud are homes that are empty due to the owner living abroad, properties with no mortgage, rented properties and people who have previously had their identity stolen.

HM Land Registry prevented 43 fraudulent applications in 2021-2022, with an estimated value of over £31million. You can protect yourself from this horrible scam in a number of ways. Firstly you can put a restriction on your title, so HM Land Registry can’t register a sale unless a solicitor or conveyancer confirms that the application was made by you. You can also sign up to HM Land Registry property alerts, these will let you know if anyone tries to change the register of your property.

Fake Holiday Homes

If you are looking to buy a holiday home make sure you are dealing with a reputable agent to avoid falling victim to an overseas holiday home scam. Villas and apartments are advertised on sites such as Facebook and eBay using photos taken from legitimate estate agents. The scammer will then ask for a deposit before you’re able to go and see the property, putting pressure on you to act fast for a lucrative “property deal”.

Guard again this type of fraud by simply being vigilant and doing your research. Do a reverse image search to see if the property photos have been used elsewhere. If they’re linked to an estate agent, contact them directly. Most importantly, don’t send any money until you’ve seen the property for yourself and have confirmed that it is actually for sale!

Rental Scams

Fake landlord scams prey on vulnerable people who need rental accommodation fast and don’t have time to view a property before committing. These criminals are taking advantage of rising rents and advertising properties on sites such as Gumtree and SpareRoom that don’t even exist! The more sophisticated scammer may even send a tenancy agreement to make it seem legitimate but once you have sent the deposit and first month’s rent, they disappear.

Never send money to a landlord without seeing the property for yourself or otherwise confirming that the listing is legitimate and definitely available for rent.

It is vital to stay vigilant when buying a house or renting a property. These are just a few examples but fraud can take many different forms. If you suspect any fraudulent activity during a move it is crucial to seek legal advice and report the situation to the appropriate authorities immediately.


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