When buying or selling a property, there are two key issues facing clients. The first is losing their money to fraudsters. The second, and possibly worse, is losing their property to the same fraudsters. Either way, the outcome is not good.
While lawyers are obliged to protect their client’s money and property, clients must also protect themselves against the ever-more sophisticated criminals looking to steal from them.
Basic email security
Fraudsters know that consumers are quite lax when it comes to email security and use this to their advantage. Given that lawyers rely on email with their clients, once a criminal has access to a person’s account they can send incorrect bank details on behalf of the client to enable proceeds of sale to be diverted. It’s very obvious but using phrases instead of words and changing passwords on a regular basis will eliminate this risk.
Be email suspicious
Lawyers cannot protect clients against criminals using similar email addresses to theirs. Any email received from a lawyer, especially where they are asking to send money, should be treated with extreme caution. Slightly misspelled email addresses originating from fraudsters are difficult to spot and can have devastating consequences.
First transfer a pound
Given the large sums of money involved, it makes sense for clients to transfer a pound initially and telephone the lawyer to make sure it has been received. This will ensure the correct bank details have been received and only these must be used throughout the transaction. It is almost unheard of for lawyers to change bank details but this is a common way for criminals to defraud clients.
Register with Land Registry Property Alert service
This free notification service sends an email to a person whenever anyone makes an application or searches against their property. It takes a few minutes to sign up on the Land Registry website and sends an email when someone attempts to change the ownership and would alert someone trying to steal the property.
Check register after completion
Once a property transaction has been completed, it is best practice for lawyers to send clients a copy of the updated registration documents from Land Registry. However, not all do this, and it is good practice to check the register after the transaction is complete to ensure the work has been carried out correctly. Note. Buyers of newbuilds, especially those with new leases, should be aware that registration currently can take up to four months.
These few basic steps enable clients to reduce the chance of being defrauded. Either by sending money to someone they shouldn’t, or by having their property transferred without their knowledge. Claiming back lost money or establishing ownership of a stolen property can take years and can be difficult.