You’ve previously read about the sharp rise in scams and steps you can take to keep yourself safe from fraudsters. While you may have taken steps to ensure you keep your bank account or investments safe, have you considered that your property might also be at risk?
While you might wonder how someone could scam you out of your property, these types of scams are more common than you’d think.
Take the case of Angela Ellis-Jones, for example. After buying a detached house in south London for £345,000, she paid off her mortgage, and eventually, the house’s value rose to £850,000.
One day, she found her letterbox blocked off and a fake letterbox attached to her front door. She did report this to the police, but there was no action taken.
The fraudster used the information gathered in the fake letterbox to steal Angela’s identity. They then anonymously paid a £80 transfer fee using a postal order, and the Land Registry transferred ownership of the property to the fraudster.
Angela spent months battling to get her property back. While she did manage to claim ownership of the property again, it demonstrates that property fraud is something you should be aware of.
So, what property scams should you look out for? And what can you do to protect yourself against them? Continue reading to find out.
Title or registration fraud
Title or registration fraud can be a very serious matter, as it involves scammers taking ownership of a property from you.
It usually involves stealing your identity first. A fraudster will then use your stolen identity to change the ownership of a property with the Land Registry, which is what happened to Angela in the case above.
To protect yourself from title or registration fraud, you can sign up for property alerts from the Land Registry if someone applies to change the ownership of your property. With this, you should be able to detect any suspicious activity before fraudsters can succeed.
While this won’t automatically block any changes to the register it will tell you what is happening so you can take appropriate action if necessary.
You can also ask HM Land Registry to restrict the registration of any sales or further mortgages on a property unless the request has been certified by a solicitor or conveyancer. You can apply for a restriction if you live in the property and there is a fee of £40. If you don’t live in the property but own it privately, it is free.
Fake conveyance scams work much like phishing, as fraudsters will try to impersonate legal professionals, such as conveyancers, with the goal of tricking you into sending a deposit for a house to them.
They will typically gather information about you for a long time to help seem more legitimate and will usually try to target those who are in the process of buying a new property.
They won’t just send phishing emails either; they could try and call or text you to pose as these legal professionals. If they’re successful, the outcome can be catastrophic, as you may end up losing a large chunk of your deposit.
These fake conveyancers’ emails can be difficult to spot sometimes, but you can try to look out for fake letterheads, or email addresses with strange characters in place of the real conveyancer’s address.
You can also avoid being targeted by fake conveyancers if you avoid posting lots of information about your planned move on social media. Since fraudsters will spend a while building a profile of you, social media will be their first port of call when it comes to gathering information about you.
Property investment scams
A property investment scam usually involves fraudsters offering lucrative investment opportunities that seem too good to pass up on. These may come in the form of buy-to-let plans, and they may even be offered after a free presentation detailing how you will make money from investing.
When the scammers have someone interested, they will usually ask for some sort of joining fee. Once you have paid this, it’s likely they will disappear, leaving you out of pocket.
Usually, if an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, then chances are it is. The scammers may offer things like guaranteed buybacks, guaranteed rental income or zero-risk investments.
You should do thorough research on any of these investment opportunities before you hand over any money.
Of course, not all property investments are scams, and you shouldn’t be scared to invest in property if that’s what you wish. However, if you know the signs to look out for, you can usually avoid them.
Rental property scams
This is when scammers try to con potential renters out of their money by asking for an upfront fee from a tenant to secure the property. It is one of the more common ways for property scammers to strike.
Fraudsters may make listings for property rentals on websites like Gumtree or Facebook. While they sometimes use pictures of real properties, they may even just make the property up completely. When someone shows interest, they typically ask the potential tenant to pay money before they can view the property, and then they’re never heard from again.
Some scammers may even try to pose as a landlord and offer to show you around a property, but when you pay the deposit and a month’s rent upfront, they will take your money and run.
Or, a more common method for rental scammers may be to send you phishing emails that state you haven’t paid your rent and will try to direct you to a fake online portal.
To avoid these sorts of scams, you should first be wary of where you saw the property listed. Only registered landlords and letting agents can post on websites like Rightmove and Zoopla, whereas anyone can post on Gumtree or Facebook.
You should also avoid paying any sort of fees upfront before you have viewed the property. Additionally, if the listing has no photos of the property, or the monthly rent is well below the market average, you should be careful.
As for phishing emails, you should always check the source of the email, as they will usually be sent from a strange address. The grammar or spelling may also be poor, so if an email doesn’t look right, don’t click on any of the links included.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss more ways you can protect yourself from property fraudsters during the stressful time of buying a new property, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (0207) 808 4120.