Landlord solicitors for property fraud

Property fraudWhether you’re buying or selling a property, it helps to be aware of the rising property scams and how you can seek protection with the assistance of an experienced conveyancing solicitor.

For many, undertaking a property transaction is an exciting experience and a significant event in their lives. However, tackling the process alone can be rather daunting, especially with the various potential risks and increasingly the issues surrounding property fraud including the “home hijacking” scams. The scams involve criminals posing as the property owners or the sellers. Research conducted by the Land Registry revealed that £24.9 million was lost through property hijacking scams in 2017. Even though there have been efforts to raise awareness of fraud within the property industry, these figures have continued to increase. In today’s digital age, cybercriminals have garnered new hacking methods to take advantage of the conveyancing process that involves large amounts of money and target homeowners who are under the stress of buying a home.

At Romain Coleman, our specialist landlord and conveyancing solicitors have had years of experience successfully assisting clients with the conveyancing process. We take proactive steps to protect your personal details and finances. We work with you every step of the way, offering clear and jargon-free explanations, so that you are never left in the dark.

What does the property conveyancing process involve?

The term conveyancing refers to the legal transfer of home ownership from the seller to the buyer. This multi-step process begins when the offer on the property is accepted and ends when the buyer receives the keys to the property.

Every property purchase must go through the conveyancing process, which involves:

  • Sorting legal paperwork – The first step of the process involves a solicitor examining the draft contract and supporting documents, and raising enquiries with the seller’s solicitor. Both the seller and the buyer will need to complete various forms and inform their solicitors if they have any worries or questions. For the buyer, it is important to also examine the tenure of their new property, meaning the conditions under which the land or property is held or occupied.
  • In-depth review of property – A vital part of the conveyancing process includes a series of legal searches to ensure that the buyer receives crucial information about all elements of the property. For instance, if the property is at risk of a flood or if there are plans to build a new highway close to the property.
  • Conveyancing for the buyer’s mortgage – Any buyer that is purchasing a property will need to ensure that their mortgage is in place and that they have the financing required for the mortgage deposit. Their solicitor will need to review a copy of the mortgage offer and examine the conditions.
  • Contracts are signed – Throughout the process, the solicitors of the seller and the buyer would have been in constant contact, and the buyer’s solicitor will confirm that everything is understood and satisfactory before the buyer signs the contract. Before signing the contract, the buyer’s solicitor will make sure that the buyer has made arrangements to transfer the deposit into their solicitor’s account so that it is cleared in time for the property to be exchanged.
  • Contracts are exchanged – A date is agreed upon to exchange contracts. This normally involves the two solicitors reading out the contracts over the phone (this conversation is recorded) to ensure that the content of the contracts is the same, before the contracts are then sent out in the post. After the contracts have been exchanged, the buyer is legally obligated to buy the property on the specified date.
  • Lodging before process completion – Towards the end of the process, the buyer’s solicitor has to lodge an interest in the property, so that the deeds to the property are frozen for 30 working days. This will allow the buyer to pay the seller and lodge an application to the Land Registry in order to put the deeds in their name. During this time, the seller will move out, the buyer will prepare to move in, and the seller’s solicitor will send a statement to the buyer with the final figure to pay. This amount has to be cleared into the buyer’s solicitor’s bank account at least one day before completion.
  • Completion day – Normally, the completion of the conveyancing process is set around midday on the agreed date. However, it usually happens when there has been confirmation that the seller’s solicitor has received all of the money that is due. This is followed by the buyer collecting the keys from the estate agent they worked through.

How much is the deposit?

It is possible for the buyer and the seller to negotiate the size of the deposit, but it is usually 10% of the value of the property. Please note that even if the buyer agrees to pay less than 10%, they are still liable for 10% of the property if they later decide to pull out. This means that if they pay an 8% deposit and decide to cease buying the property, the buyer will lose their deposit and be legally required to pay an additional 2% of the value of the property.

How can criminals hijack the process?

Referred to as a transfer scam, this illegal action takes place when the buyer of the property is transferring the deposit to their solicitor. During this process, the fraudster will divert and steal the money, transferring it to various accounts, most commonly overseas. First-time buyers who are not accustomed to the conveyancing process or are not aware of such scams are often the main target.

Cybercriminals can effectively achieve this scam by hacking into emails between solicitors and property buyers. They will then seek out a victim, and remain low until just before completion when the payment for the property is required to complete the process. At this stage, they will send out a fake email, which appears authentic, explaining how the solicitor’s bank account details have changed. After the buyer has transferred the money into the fraudulent account, the criminal will swiftly empty and shut down the account before the buyer realises anything.

How can you protect yourself from property fraud?

Hiring an experienced landlord and conveyancing solicitor is an essential step to protecting yourself throughout the conveyancing process and ensuring that your data and finances are not at risk. It also helps to be aware of the most common signs of email scams, which include:

  • A request for personal information
  • The address of the sender is different to the website address of the organisation, which the email claims to be from
  • There are multiple grammatical and spelling errors
  • The tone of the email is urgent and demanding
  • The email is not addressed to you specifically
  • If you are being asked to transfer money, pick up the phone and speak to your solicitors first

Why should you hire a solicitor for the conveyancing process?

Although it is possible for you to undergo the process of conveyancing independently, it is highly recommended that you hire a solicitor to assist and oversee the entire process. Given the legal intricacies, complicated jargon and the numerous steps required, navigating the path of conveyancing alone can be stressful and time-consuming. Without an experienced expert by your side, you are also more at risk of falling prey to fraud. Our specialist landlord and conveyancing solicitors are here working with you, keeping you up-to-date with every action and explaining every area of property law.

For more information on our services, talk to our specialist landlord and conveyancing solicitors today on 0208 520 4555 or complete our Contact Form.

This article was first written in 2016 and was updated on 28/08/2019.

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This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.