How to avoid getting caught out by property scamsters

by: Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association
  • 22/03/2017
  • 0
How to avoid getting caught out by property scamsters
The conviction of Laylah Scarlett De Cruz (pictured) and her mother, Dianne Moorcroft, for a £1.2m property fraud on a Kensington house they were renting shows how simply such crimes can be committed, but also the potential risk involved for homeowners particularly where properties are rented out, left empty and/or are mortgage-free.

As Mortgage Solutions reported, the pair targeted the home of a deceased woman, before Moorcroft changed her name to the genuine owner’s name, set up Dubai bank accounts in that name, before applying and securing a £1.2m mortgage on the property.

The money made its way to Dubai, was taken out in cash and has not been tracked down since, despite the pair receiving jail terms.

It’s another example of how fraudsters can target all types of properties and its clear an area we at the Conveyancing Association are concerned about. One of our recently published strategic plan’s work streams focuses on enhanced identify verification, increasing certainty and centralising the process, ideally with the Land Registry.

Advisers reading this will be able to help all clients who own property by making them aware of the following measures that can be taken in order to mitigate the risk of a successful fraud being perpetrated.

 

Keep clients safe

Here are some tips and advice to offer clients:

  • Make clients aware they can register for the Property Alert service at HM Land Registry – it’s free and if there is activity on their title, Land Registry will contact the owner. Alerts can be set up on any property so, for example, registering for the service in respect of vulnerable property owners such as the elderly means children can be alerted to activity on the title.
  • It’s also possible to register a restriction at Land Registry preventing anyone from selling the property without going through extra identity verification with Land Registry. This should make it harder for fraudsters to sell property they do not own
  • Buyers of property should ensure they are not buying from a fake seller – to do this ask their conveyancer if they’ll carry out a check on the seller’s conveyancer’s bank account to ensure it is genuine. There are also products available via Lawyer Checker and others that the seller’s conveyancer can use to check the account given by the seller is actually owned by the person with that name.
  • Tell clients to avoid posting on social media any information that would indicate they are moving house and the stage they’re at, as this will prevent fraudsters identifying them as a potential target.
  • Also, tell them to avoid communicating on unsecure wi-fi – this will prevent cyber-eavesdroppers from intercepting emails.

Finally, remember this is not the only type of fraud prevalent at the moment; other examples include fraudsters sending emails to homeowners pretending to be from their conveyancer asking them to send money to different bank details which in fact belong to them. Warn your clients that if they receive anything suspicious, for example, emails talking about changed bank details, then they must check with their conveyancer before sending any money. Being aware and double-checking can save a lot of heartache for all concerned.

 

Beth Rudolf is director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association

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