Conveyancing Fraud Red Flags
The National Association of Property Buyers (NAPB) has issued a warning about the increased risk of certain types of property fraud, particularly now that many transactions are carried out remotely.
At Veya, we help conveyancers spot warning signs early on, ensuring that higher-risk files are allocated to experienced property lawyers who are made aware of potential issues from the start.
Below is a reminder of some of the main conveyancing fraud red flags that should put you on alert.
The property has only been in the owner’s name for a short period of time
A short length of ownership could be an indication that title fraud has taken place. By impersonating the owner and faking their signature on a transfer document, a fraudster could register the property into their name. They can then sell the property and collect the sale proceeds.
Properties that are particularly at risk include:
• Unregistered properties – where the Land Registry has no record of the legal owner, no-one to serve notice on and no way of knowing whether a claim to register a property is fraudulent
• Properties with no mortgage, which will be easier to transfer
• Investment or buy-to-let properties – as the owners don’t typically live on-site, unusual activity can go unnoticed
• Empty properties, for example, where the owner has moved into a care home or lives overseas
• Second homes – where the owner will not necessarily spot unusual visits to the property
Owner seems to have little knowledge of the property
Fraud can also occur without the property being transferred. A warning sign is the Land Register showing that the property has been owned for a long time by someone, but the seller is not able to give a large amount of information when asked.
Owner provides scant evidence of their identity
Where a seller does not appear to have full and convincing identity documentation, it could be because they are not who they say they are. A scammer may try to rely on utility bills or other information to try to establish a false or stolen identity. At the start of the transaction, they may provide just a telephone number and an email address to avoid having correspondence sent to the property. Alternatively, the seller may give you a physical address other than the property and state that they do not live there.
Identity documents do not seem to agree with registered ownership details
The registered owner could have had the property for many years, but their identity documents or their appearance if you meet them is much younger than you would expect.
A sense of urgency
Scammers often try to create a false sense of urgency to induce others to cut corners in the hopes that they will not spot what is happening. Wanting a quick sale without a verifiable reason is a danger signal.
Fraudsters can create a letterhead and a website for a fictitious conveyancing firm. They sometimes even register a sub-office with the Solicitors Regulation Authority which can make the contact details seem like a legitimate business at first glance.
Email addresses used may be very similar to those for a genuine firm, for example, with a single letter’s difference.
If you are suspicious of the firm and it is from an area far away, you could speak to a large firm in the area and see if they know of the unidentified firm.
Where a seller’s conveyancer is not local and there is no apparent reason that they have been chosen, this is a red flag and should be investigated further.
High value or low value property
Where a property is of high value, extra care should be taken. Similarly, if a property is of lower value than you would expect, this can also be a warning sign. It could be coupled with pressure to get the transaction completed quickly or the price would be increased.
At Veya we can provide your firm with an immediate assessment of the complexity of a conveyancing transaction so that you can ensure that it goes to the right lawyer. We also provide title insights which can be used as a starting point for your due diligence work.
To speak to one of our team, ring us on 03335 330125, email us at [email protected] or fill in our contact form.