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Homeowners warned of property fraud increase

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Homeowners warned of property fraud increase

In her 2018 bestseller, Our House, Louise Candlish describes the moment when a woman realises an imposter is moving into her London home – and appears to own it. While the book centres around the twists of an elaborate blackmail plot, losing your home to fraud is a real, if small, possibility in 2019.

Research on the website Property Investor Today has revealed that since 2005 property fraud claims submitted to the Land Registry totalled £73.3 million, averaging out at £107,669 per scam. This contrasts to the more common, and heavily publicised, online financial scams, which set the average victim back by £600.

Alarmingly, with so much at stake, property fraud can be quite simple to carry out. Details of ownership of properties in England and Wales can be sourced online and recent cases have involved fraudsters using the homeowner’s identity to secure a mortgage. In other examples, scammers have impersonated the homeowner to have deeds transferred to their name.

Other forms of property fraud include mortgage scams involving fake sellers and holiday homes advertised as properties for sale. So-called ‘Friday afternoon scams’ are also common – with many property transactions taking place on a Friday, hackers intercept solicitors’ emails, sending their own bank details to buyers instead.

According to the HomeOwners Alliance, these types of fraud are on the increase. “Unfortunately, the value of successful frauds of property sales have more than tripled – from £7 million in 2013 to £25 million in 2017,” says chief executive, Paula Higgins.

“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.”

If you are concerned about property fraud, register for free email property alerts from the Land Registry. Using the service means you will be alerted of any attempted activity regarding the deeds of your house.

In addition, for a £40 fee, homeowners can opt to put a restriction on the title deed of their property, stopping the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage unless a conveyancer certifies the application is genuine.

For more information about property fraud visit the gov.uk and the HomeOwners Alliance websites.

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