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Man's home 'stolen' in conveyancing fraud

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Reverend Mike Hall was working in North Wales when he was informed that people were inside his Luton home, only to learn it had been sold without his knowledge by conveyancing fraud.

Mr Hall was only informed of the property sale when his neighbours saw lights on in the house and people present inside.

Once arriving home, Mr Hall found he no longer had access to his property as the locks had been changed. In addition, he found all his furniture, furnishings, carpet and curtains were removed and build work was underway.

Despite Mr Hall insisting the property had not been sold, the new owner asked him to leave "It is now my property. You are now trespassing. Get out."

After an investigation with the BBC, they found his name was no longer on the Land Registry documentation.

Upon confronting the police for assistance, they told him that the matter was civil and not criminal. But he is now in contact with Bedfordshire Police’s fraud squad, which have now begun an investigation into the matter, as reported by the BBC.

Conveyancing fraud is becoming far more common, with HMLR reporting 22 claims for fraud, resulting in £3.5 million paid in compensation for fraud in the last year alone. Here, we provide advice on what property fraud is, who it affects and how to protect yourself against it.

What is property fraud?

Put simply, property fraud is stolen identity which is used to deceive another person in concern to a property transaction.

Unfortunately, property fraud is on the rise and can happen to anyone. Property fraud criminals can impersonate any person involved in the conveyancing process, including owners, buyers, conveyancers, borrowers, or lenders. The fraudulent methods used can change, and it can be challenging to confirm whether the transaction is legitimate or not.

What are the types of property fraud?

There are many different types of property fraud, but the most common type is someone impersonating a buyer or seller. Types of property fraud can include:

Pretending to be a buyer – commonly used method of property fraud where someone pretends to be interested in buying a property, often done to obtain information regarding the seller or property.

Pretending to be a seller – another common way property fraud occurs is through a person pretending to be the property owner using identify theft, such as in the case of Reverend Mike Hall.

Pretending to be a conveyancer – it is possible for property fraud to happen through email hacking. This can include changing bank account details, meaning the money will be sent to the fraudster instead of the conveyancer.

Pretending to be a lender – this type of property fraud can occur when a fraudster impersonates a mortgage lender.

These are by no means that the only types of property fraud, and as property fraud becomes more common, tactics change. Other types include quick sale scams and home hijacking.

What are the warning signs of property fraud?

Although property fraud can sometimes be extremely hard to recognise, there are certain warning signs that all parties involved should be aware of during the property transaction process. Signs to be wary of include:

  • Lack of contact details
  • Lack of communication, such as only via email
  • Spelling and grammatical errors in emails
  • Receiving different bank details than previously
  • Urgent requests
  • Requesting sensitive details with no explanation as to why they’re needed

How can you protect yourself against property fraud?

  • Set up a property alert. On HM Land Registry, you can set up an alert on your property, which will monitor all activity in relation to it. Where there is activity, you will receive an email notification immediately.
  • Confirm sensitive details via phone or in person.
  • Put a restriction on your title. Doing this prevents the sale of your property or a mortgage on your property without official certifying the application was made by you.
  • Trust your instincts, question things when they feel wrong. We’re all human and know when something seems right and when something feels off.
  • Check contact details match. Your solicitors should provide contact details on their website; make sure the ones you are communicating with match (spoofing email addresses can, however, be done)
  • Don’t feel pressured into doing something. No solicitor will ask you to urgently transfer money .
  • Check your solicitor’s security measures, such as whether they encrypt their emails.

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