Your property fraud questions answered
Property fraud was in the press recently, after a tenant tried to sell his landlord’s property using fake documents and a fabricated estate agency. Thankfully, incidents like this are extremely uncommon, thanks to legitimate estate agents like us, legal protocols and a robust conveyancing system.
Still, a degree of home mover diligence is sensible and the answers to these commonly-asked questions will help you reduce the risk of encountering property frauds and fakes.
Q. Can my house be sold without my knowledge?
A. It is exceptionally rare for this to happen, and such a sale is usually rumbled by agents and solicitors before it reaches completion. Although vacant, let and mortgage-free properties are most susceptible to fraudulent activity, all homeowners should be aware of identity theft. This is when criminals change their name by deed poll to match that of the homeowner and use fraudulent ID to move home and secure a mortgage.
Q. How can I prevent someone from selling my home without my knowledge?
A. There are a number of protective measures open to homeowners. We recommend contacting the Land Registry to ensure three things are in place: your property is registered with them; an alert is set up that notifies you if someone tries to change the ownership of the property or refinance it; and that there is an anti-fraud title restriction on the property, which means a solicitor has to confirm the person selling the property is the registered owner.
Q. How do I know if a buyer is legitimate?
A. There are a number of identity and authenticity checks an estate agent is obliged to make, which will ensure any buyer put forward is genuine, to the best of the agent’s knowledge. In addition, the conveyancers involved and the seller’s mortgage lender will make additional checks, especially concerning financial security and identity.
Q. How will I know if a property for sale is genuine?
A. Fake properties for sale are extremely few and far between but you can protect yourself by always purchasing through a reputable estate agent. Never deal directly with a seller who is advertising on a selling site, such as Facebay or Gumtree, as you’ll have little – or no – protection or right to compensation. Private sellers are not allowed to list a property on Zoopla, Rightmove or OnTheMarket so if the property for sale isn’t on one of the leading portals, question why.
Q. How will I know if an estate agent is genuine?
A. Fake estate agencies are even rarer than fake property sales but it’s still wise to validate any agency you are dealing with. Check if the estate agent has the vitals first: a landline contact number, a website, any online reviews and a willingness to meet at their office.
Next, check their accreditations. Reputable estate agents will be able to prove their membership or affiliation to one – or a number – of these bodies, such as Client Money Protect; The Property Ombudsman; The Property Redress Scheme; the Information Commissioner’s Office; Propertymark; SafeAgent; UK Association of Letting Agents and/or The National Approved Letting Scheme.
Q. What role do estate agents play in preventing property fraud?
A. Estate agents play a pivotal role in protecting buyers, sellers and landlords, carrying out identity and background checks. Among those are ‘know your client’ anti-money laundering checks to make sure the money someone is using to buy a property comes from a legitimate source. Agents also have a legal duty to carry out ‘due diligence’, which involves asking to see photo ID and proof of address of those buying and selling a property.
Q. I have been refused access to view a property, should I be worried?
A. Some sellers will protect their privacy and limit viewings but a complete refusal for an in-person viewing is worrying. Other red flags include only being able to view a virtual tour, no photos of the property’s inside or denying a surveyor access. Sometimes there is a plausible reason for this but an estate agent will give you the full and accurate picture.
Q. How can I choose a reputable solicitor?
A. A diligent solicitor will be alert for fraudulent activity so it pays to have the best legal representative in place – one who will thoroughly investigate title deeds and ownership details. Personal recommendations are always a good place to start when appointing a company, and we can provide a list of legal firms we trust. You can also check the validity of a conveyancer or solicitor with the Council for Licensed Conveyancers or the Law Society, respectively.
We are here to act as a layer of protection when moving home. Our training means we are able to spot fraudulent activity and often ‘feel’ when a party may be operating unethically. If you’d like to know what anti-fraud measures we have in place, please get in touch.
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