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Estate agents and property fraud

Estate Agents and Property Fraud


April 10, 2024

The UK housing market is a competitive and fast paced industry, where challenges may often arise. Within this scenario, the role of letting or estate agents and conveyancers is crucial for ensuring lawful property transactions.

Property frauds, like rental scams and false representation, are on the rise making letting or estate agents and conveyancers more important than ever.

Inevitably, property fraud endangers all parties involved in the buying, selling, or renting of properties. 

Yet how do letting agents mitigate property fraud?

Additionally, what do they risk in case of negligence?


Understanding Property Fraud

Property fraud encompasses various deceptive practices aimed at unlawfully acquiring property for financial gains.

Title fraud is a form of property fraud. Criminals pretend to be owners, selling or mortgaging a property, fraudulently.

Rental frauds are another widespread scheme, where scammers rent out properties posing as legitimate landlords or agents. When falling victim to a rental fraud, prospective tenants might be fooled into paying huge upfront payments to secure their stay, only to witness the fraudsters disappearing in a moment with the collected money.

Identity theft and fraud are now easier to commit with online tools, markedly increasing  property fraud scams in England and Wales.

As fraud cases increase dramatically, the lack of monitoring by British institutions - forced to deal with countless cases of fraud with scarce funds and outdated methods - has become alarmingly clear, both to homeowners and fraudsters. 

The Role of Letting and Estate Agents

Letting and estate agents serve as mediators between buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants, playing pivotal roles in property transactions.

They assist clients in buying, selling, or renting properties, guiding them through the entire transaction from start to finish.

Estate and letting agents have deep knowledge of the UK housing market and can provide valuable insights on trends and values.

How do estate and letting agents fight property fraud?

Two of the most important tasks to counter property fraud are: identity checks and listing verifications.

Estate and letting agents need to verify the identity of clients, making sure they are who they say they are.

If properly carried out, identity checks can reduce the risk of scams and frauds by false representation.

When performing listing verifications, agents must ensure their accuracy to effectively safeguard against potential frauds.

Consequently, it is paramount to only trust authorised agents, possibly part of renowned national associations.

These include the Association Of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).

The Role of Law Firms

Another class of actors playing a key role in property transactions are solicitors or conveyancers.

Conveyancing solicitors are legal professionals who ensure the legality of property transactions.

They usually handle all the legal aspects, including compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards.

How do conveyancers fight property fraud?

Conveyancers check property ownership and carry out identification checks  to ensure property transactions are in fact legitimate.

Multiple safeguards and risk management measures should, in theory, ensure that identity verification procedures are rigorous.

Ultimately, conveyancers should serve as gatekeepers against fraud.

Indeed, they are experts in scrutinising the details and identifying any red flags that may indicate fraudulent activity.

Challenges Faced by Agents and Conveyancers

Despite their importance, conveyancers, letting and estate agents encounter various challenges in mitigating property fraud risks.

Scammers employ more and more sophisticated fraud schemes and tactics, making property frauds extremely difficult to detect.

Even verifying the identities of clients can be complex, especially in cases of finely forged documents.

Nonetheless, agents and conveyancers still have a duty to ensure robust security measures are in place.

Conversely, if they fail to protect sensitive client information, both their reputation and their credibility will be at risk.


The Dreamvar Case Lesson

The Dreamvar case is a notable example highlighting the risks that British law firms can face.

The notorious case (Dreamvar (UK) Ltd v Mishcon de Reya [2018]) involved a fraudulent property transaction. In short, a fraudster pretended to be the owner of a property and managed to sell it for £1.1m.

The buyers, represented by their solicitors, conducted the necessary due diligence and proceeded with the transaction in good faith.

However, it later emerged that the seller was an imposter.

Dreamvar shed light on the flaws within property transactions. The case raised questions about the liability of the various parties involved.

The Court of Appeal's ruling highlighted the need for heightened vigilance in verifying the identities of clients.

Additionally, The Dreamvar case underscored the importance of having appropriate indemnity insurance and professional liability coverage.

Yet mitigating the financial and reputation risks posed by property fraud is not an easy task.

Industry regulators and professional bodies have emphasised the importance of implementing best practices and risk management protocols to safeguard against fraudulent activities.

Ultimately, the Dreamvar case warns professionals of the sector about the potential consequences of unwittingly participating in property fraud.

From Dreamvar onwards, the imperative of adopting proactive measures to protect their clients and their businesses became finally widespread.

Click here to read the full story of the Dreamvar case.

Safe Harbour Standard and the Role of Technology

One of the most widely adopted security protocols is the so-called Safe Harbour Standard.

Safe Harbour aims at accurately verifying the identities of clients and detecting potential signs of identity theft.

It employs advanced identity verification solutions, such as biometric authentication and digital identity verification platforms.

The British government promotes the adoption of Safe Harbour. Yet it is not a compulsory measure.

Despite Safe Harbours diligent efforts (Discover more about Safe Harbour), this process is not bulletproof and fraudulent activities can still occur undetected, as in the Luton Reverend case.

Future Uses of Technology

Nonetheless, in the future technology might be the only effective way to prevent property fraud.

New avenues for research investigates the potential impact of blockchain as a means to enhance security and transparency.

By leveraging blockchain-based property registries, professionals could create immutable records of property ownership and transaction history, reducing the risk of property fraud.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms could also play a role, while Big Data can help identify patterns and anomalies indicative of fraudulent activities. This, in turn, could empower professionals to detect and prevent fraud more effectively. 

However, advancements in technology have a long way to go.


Preventing Property Fraud with Title Guardian

We are proud to stand as the most effective and tech-savvy service for property fraud prevention.

Title Guardian can proactively monitor your properties.

If something illegal happens, our system will quickly alert you on your phone or computer to stop the fraud in its tracks.

With Title Guardian, client safety always comes first. Professionals can rest easy knowing they have 24/7 flawless vigilance and protection.

Explore our services to know more about us. Or look at our pricing options to enter the future right away.

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