How to Protect Yourself Against Conveyancing Fraud.
Cyber-crime has become the fastest-growing area for criminal activity, and unfortunately, property transactions are not free from it. Conveyancing fraud can be popular among cyber criminals because large amounts of money are typically involved.
Victims of conveyancing fraud lose an estimated average sum of £101,000, while a recent case in Australia saw a couple lose £1.1 million to scam artists when trying to buy their dream home.
Amid the stress of buying or selling a home, or a commercial property it can be easy to miss warning signs and fall victim to conveyancing fraud. However, this article will equip you with the knowledge and tips both to recognise potential conveyancing scams and to ensure you protect your property.
Types of conveyancing fraud
The most typical types of conveyancing fraud stem from the criminals hacking the victim’s emails or stealing personal information. They can then create an account which allows them to impersonate your conveyancing solicitor and request money to be transferred.
A common tactic is to wait until late on in the process and then request the buyer to transfer the deposit or fees to a bank account they own. The buyer might simply assume the conveyancing has proceeded a little more quickly than expected. By the time the fraud comes to light, the money has been moved and is untraceable.
Some scams, however, are more ambitious. A recent case in Luton involved a vicar, Rev. Mike Hall, working away from home, who was alerted by neighbours that the lights were on in his home. When he returned to investigate, he found the locks changed, the interior stripped and a builder at work.
Apparently, the criminals had managed to clone his driving license and set up a bank account in Rev. Hall’s name. These had been used to convince the buyer, their conveyancing solicitor and even the Land Registry that they were entitled to sell the property.
How to identify conveyancing fraud
In common with other types of online fraud, there are several clues you can look out for.
Spelling Mistakes: Traditionally, phishing emails (designed to trick you into revealing your financial details) are full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. While this would still be a clue, however, many cyber criminals now are cleverer than that, so a well-written email is no guarantee.
Sender Email Address: A big give away can be the source email address, although this is not necessarily obvious. For example, the criminals may have created an address that is different by one letter from your conveyancing solicitor’s address. They may also have managed to disguise their actual address behind a fake one.
Requesting transfer of funds: If you are being asked to transfer money into an account different from the one you have used before or there is an urgent request for money, extra expenses, or a request earlier than you expected. You should treat this activity as suspicious and be checked thoroughly.
Top tips to avoid conveyancing fraud
Most conveyancing fraud can be avoided by following a few simple precautions. Here are our top tips to stay safe.
- Carefully check the address of any email, as well as any link included. Even if these are exactly as expected, hover over them to check whether something different lies behind the text.
- Sign up to HM Land Registry Property alert service for free. This service helps to protect your property from suspected fraudulent activity.
- Treat any urgent request to transfer money with suspicion.
- If you have any doubts about a request for money, phone your solicitor, using the phone number given on their website, rather than one in the email.
- If you do decide to make a payment you are not entirely sure of, transfer £1 first and phone your solicitor to ensure it has been received.
- Ask your solicitor to send sensitive information by post, rather than email.
- Check what security measures your conveyancing solicitor has in place to protect against conveyancing fraud.
- When speaking on the phone, always check who you are speaking to.
- Educate yourself on how to protect your property from conveyancing fraud from trusted sources.
- Above all, trust your instincts. If any request seems at all suspicious, check it.
Our specialist team at Osborne Morris & Morgan would far rather you queried unnecessarily than risked falling into a scammer’s trap.
We also conduct extensive legal and financial checks into any other solicitors used in your conveyancing process, to give you peace of mind that no fraudulent activity is being committed.
Speak to an experienced Conveyancer
The single best step you can take to protect yourself against conveyancing fraud is to speak to a specialist conveyancing solicitor. Our specialist team of Solicitors are on hand to help you. Please call us on 01525 378177 or contact us online.