Property scams costs victims £73.3m

Victims of property scams pay-out an average £107,669, with 678 property fraud claims having been made in the last 14 years and the total loss equating to £73.3m.

Finding published by ABC Finance revealed that property fraud accounted for 71 per cent of fraud within UK local authorities over the 14-year period. Comparatively, council tax has the second-highest rate of fraud but accounted for just 9 per cent of cases.

Furthermore, the findings highlighted there are twice as many property fraud claims than there are prevented cases, and it is not only homeowners that have to be aware of scammers – private renters are also in danger of falling victim to property fraud.

Between 2014 and 2018, victims of rent-related-fraud reported losses of £22.1m, with the scam costing the average renter £1,396.

Commenting on the findings, HomeOwners Alliance founder and CEO Paula Higgins said: “Unfortunately, the value of successful frauds of property sales have more than tripled – from £7m in 2013 to £25m in 2017. Email and IT systems (especially those of conveyancers) are being attacked continuously.

“Scammers are becoming more sophisticated – fake emails can now be very hard to spot, and people may find themselves caught out especially when under the stress of buying a home.”

One of the most direct and harmful methods fraudsters will use to try to go after your home is by either requesting a change to the Land Registry to either transfer assets into their ownership or impersonate the current owner for financial gain through the property.

The reason it’s so simple for scammers to do this is that land certificates have been made obsolete, with all property titles (in England and Wales) now published online. Because of this, many homeowners may not be made aware that someone is impersonating them to commit property fraud until it’s all over.

For instance, a fraudster could take out a mortgage using a homeowner’s identity, place some of this cash into an account to make a few repayments and keep the rest for themselves. The mortgage lender will only be made aware once the dummy account runs out while the property’s deed holder is left liable for the debts incurred.

On whether enough is being done, Higgins added: “Although the lenders, conveyancers and others take property fraud seriously, especially given the sums involved, there needs to be more cross-industry collaboration. And in particular to ensure that estate agents – who may be the first point of contact for fraudsters – are trained and know what to look for. We would also welcome more secure communication systems between conveyancers and home movers to reduce the number of opportunities that fraudsters currently have.

“Consumers – as potential victims of fraud – will find taking legal action to recover their losses expensive and time-consuming. Prevention – taking the necessary steps from stopping the fraud in the first place – may turn out to be the best cure.”

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