We take great care of our clients’ money and property
Fraud is rife – everywhere, in a multitude of ways, fraudsters are trying to steal people’s money – even their houses – from under their noses. Apart from the never-ending stream of phishing emails, scams and con tricks, there are a couple of particular frauds based on owning or dealing with property – which is where Nelson McLean can help protect you.
First, it is becoming increasingly common for fraudsters to masquerade as a legitimate law firm, purporting to act as the seller of a property, in order to receive the purchase money and make off with it. In addition to the usual checks into the bona fides of the firms involved – often complicated by the fact that the regulators of law firms do not always have an accurate or up-to-date register of them – we include an extra check based on “follow the money”: at an early stage in the transaction (before our buyer is legally committed to a contract) we ask the seller’s lawyer for the details of the bank account to which the completion money will be sent. We then check the bona fides of that bank account, using LawyerChecker.co.uk – a subscription-only service that checks whether the account in question is regularly and recently used by a conveyancer for genuine transactions. Any oddities, such as a lack of recent use, or the bank being in a different part of the country from the supposed law firm, are reported to us, and we check further. That way, we do not risk sending clients’ money to a firm that does not exist, or to an account that does not belong to a genuine firm.
Second, it is not just money that is vulnerable: properties can be stolen, too. If a fraudster is able to convince the Land Registry that they are the owner of your property, they can sell or – more likely – mortgage the property and disappear with the proceeds before you are aware anything is wrong. In the case of a mortgage, this might not be until the mortgage lender tries to take possession of the property for non-payment of the mortgage instalments, at which point you would have to prove that you did not sign the mortgage deed that purports to be signed by you. Properties that are subject to a genuine mortgage and are owner-occupied are far less vulnerable, as that mortgage would normally need to be cleared off, putting another hurdle in the way of any attempted fraud, and the true owner is able to collect mail delivered to the property. However, buy-to-let properties and properties that are free of mortgage are much more susceptible. Ask us for details of how we suggest you fight this risk and protect your property from being stolen.
– Malcolm McLean
Update (09 March 2015): The Land Registry has now introduced a much more effective property alert scheme: you can now monitor dealings with up to 10 properties, with the Land Registry emailing you if official searches or applications are received in respect of them – this does not lock down the possibility of dealings with the property as much as requiring a third party’s consent would, and you have to act quickly on receipt of an email alert, but it is certainly better than the previous official solutions. I do not know why there is a limit of 10 properties for each registered individual, but it is useful that you do not need to be the owner of the property in order to receive alerts about it: this could be very useful in protecting elderly relatives against being conned out of their properties.
– Malcolm McLean