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A Complete Guide to Property Fraud

Fraud is a type of crime that is ever evolving due to the continued development in computers and the internet. In 2017 alone there were 3.2 million cases of fraud reported to the police and there are a number of scams involving buying, selling and renting property which happen to regular people every day. To help you avoid becoming a victim of property fraud, we have put together a comprehensive guide to safeguarding yourself – and your property.

What is property fraud?

Property fraud rears its head in many different ways. Some criminals peddle ‘get rich quick’ investment schemes, whereas some steal the personal details of homeowners to sell or re-mortgage their property.

Types of property fraud and scams

Property fraud can have long-lasting consequences for the innocent party. We outline some of the most common strategies criminals use below:

  • Identity theft – criminals steal your personal details and pose as you to sell or re-mortgage your property.
  • Fund interceptions – fraudsters identify property for sale and pose as solicitors or conveyancers in order to trick buyers into sending them money. Usually they will hack professional email addresses to do so.
  • Investment scams – crooks promise investment property that will never be built or buy-to-let investments on derelict homes.

Who is at risk of property fraud?

Whilst virtually anybody could become a victim of property fraud, there are certain people and properties that are more at risk from criminals:

  • Owners who live overseas
  • Elderly owners
    • Particularly those who are in hospital or live in a care home
  • Mortgage-free properties
  • Empty properties
    • Due to a death or a relationship breakup
  • Tenanted properties
  • Mortgage-free, high value properties
    • Particularly properties whose owners spend time abroad
  • Properties undergoing redevelopment
  • Unoccupied properties

What to do if you think you are a victim of property fraud

Many of the scams being used by criminals to trick people are very convincing and it may be hard to distinguish if something out of the ordinary is occurring. In the case of identity theft, you will not know it has happened until it is too late. But, for investment and fund scams, you may be able to spot some tell-tale signs:

  • If something seems too good to be true, it likely is
  • You’ve received correspondence from your solicitor that is unusual
    • Asking for payment or personal details
  • You’ve attended a presentation about making money from property investment
  • You’ve received correspondence about being a property mogul
  • You’re being asked for high sums of money to arrange a viewing or hold a property

If you think you may have been the victim of property fraud you need to get in contact with Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting centre. You can report fraud online to Action Fraud or call 0300 123 2040 any time of the day or night, they are available 24/7.

Alternatively, owners who are concerned about their property can call the Land Registry and speak to specially trained staff for guidance, by calling the Property Fraud Line on 0300 006 7030. The line is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

How to lessen your risk of being targeted by property scammers

Whilst some people are simply unfortunate enough to be victims of property fraud, there are steps you can take to protect yourself as best as possible:

  • Shred all personal paperwork that you no longer wish to keep
  • Keep an eye on elderly relatives and their homes
  • Question every email you receive discussing property
  • Question unusual emails from professionals you are working with
  • Ensure a friend can tend to your home if you are away
  • Never give anybody any money without legitimising them first

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