Benefits Of Offering Clients The Property Alert Service
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated with the systems they use to commit property fraud, using new technology and the ability to access personal data. The average cost to a victim of property fraud is over £100,000 and with fraud on the increase, alongside increasing their in house protection systems, should conveyancers also be looking at simpler means to protect their clients’ assets?
The Property Alert Service, introduced by Land Registry in 2014, allows people to receive free updates whenever someone makes a search on a property’s title or attempts to change the registration. Property owners who are alerted are then able to act quickly to ensure they do not become a victim, by either seeking legal advice, contacting the lender who may have done a title search or contacting Action Fraud.
Between 2009 and 2017 Land Registry has prevented 279 cases of fraud, however, the number of claims of property fraud during the same time-frame was 678. With property fraud on the increase, conveyancers could begin to offer a service to their clients when purchasing property at little cost but potentially saving a client thousands of pounds.
The HomeOwners Alliance is great supporter of the Alert Service, with chief executive Paula Higgins telling Today’s Conveyancer:
“It’s a complete no-brainer for property owners to sign up to Land Registry’s free property alert service and we promote the service on our site. People need to be aware that the alert will only highlight activity and will not block any suspicious action. Homebuyers and sellers need to be made aware of the threat of property fraud, and what steps they can do to minimise the risk. Scammers are becoming more sophisticated – fake emails can be hard to spot and people may find themselves caught out especially when they are in the midst of a property transaction which they do infrequently.”
When completing a property transaction for a client it is often easy to see if their property would be a high-risk target for property fraudsters, for example, buy-to-let clients or those with no mortgage on the property. It would not only benefit the client in protecting their property, but it may also help protect firms against claims of mortgage fraud. Even if conveyancers are not aware of the fraud, the Fraud Act 2006 can still hold them liable.
An experienced conveyancer was struck off earlier this year after admitting to failing to disclose to the lender a sub-sale on a leasehold property or prior transactions, despite his genuine belief that the bank knew about the structure of the transaction.
All firms could look to include advising clients to use the free Property Alert Service or offering a service to vulnerable clients as a way of protecting clients, improving service as well as possible extra income.
Further to offering the service to conveyancing clients, other high-risk areas of property fraud are to properties that are empty due to a death of the owner or in the probate process. Solicitors could also look to advise the client regarding registering their interest in a property that is not theirs, such as those who have an interest in a property during divorce or may have an elderly relative who may be vulnerable. People are able to register interest in up to 10 properties.
As a conveyancer, would you consider this a valuable additional revenue stream as well as acting in the best interests of your clients?