Homebuyers warned over stamp duty scams as deadline nears

Homebuyers warned over stamp duty scams: Thousands rush to complete sales before March deadline and criminals look to take advantage

  • Stamp duty holiday has helped encourage a mini property boom in the UK 
  • Criminals are trying to intercept funds using fake email communications 
  • They could pose as solicitors or estate agents to trick buyers into sending money
  • £16 million was lost from UK bank accounts in the first half of 2020 due to fraud 

Homebuyers have been urged not to fall victim to scams, as they rush to complete on purchases prior to the stamp duty holiday ending on 31 March.

Criminals are looking to benefit from the fact that buyers must transfer large sums of money to secure their new homes, according to the trade association UK Finance.

The stamp duty holiday has helped encourage a mini property boom in the UK. House prices have soared, and mortgage approvals reached the highest level since 2007 according to the latest figures released by the Bank of England.  

There was a 300 per cent increase in phishing scams during the first two months of lockdown

There was a 300 per cent increase in phishing scams during the first two months of lockdown

‘Moving home can be a stressful time, however it’s vital to remember to take steps which could keep you safe from scams,’ said Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance.

‘This includes letting your bank and other organisations know that you’ve changed address, making sure your mail is secure, and ensuring the recipient’s bank details are correct when paying large amounts of money during the house-buying process, such as your deposit.’  

What should UK homebuyers be on the lookout for?

There has been a rise in cases of money laundering and cybercrime attacks during the first half of 2020, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In particular, there was a 300 per cent increase in phishing scams during the first two months of lockdown.   

Meanwhile UK Finance said £16.2 million was lost from UK bank accounts in the first half of 2020 – often after victims were sent fake emails by criminals posing as conveyancing solicitors, builders and other tradespeople. 

‘Typically, scammers hack into emails between conveyancers and homebuyers and effectively hijack the process,’ said Stephen Ward, director of strategy at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

4 tips for homebuyers from the Conveyancing Association 

1) Don’t highlight any purchases or sales on social media – it can tip off fraudsters

2) Have the strongest email security in place. Be aware of fraudsters’ ability to hack into email accounts

3) Be aware of emails purporting to be from property lawyers that ask you to change your banking details or send money to other accounts – they generally do not change bank accounts

4) Always check the exact account details with the property lawyer, and send a small amount first to make sure you have the bank details right

‘Once they have a suitable victim, they will remain dormant until just before completion, when a large sum of money is due.

‘At this point they will send a fake, but genuine looking email to the homebuyer appearing to come from their conveyancer with revised bank account details for where to send the deposit.’ 

This sort of impersonation could also come in the form of a letter or phone call, according to Tony Neate, of the fraud advisory service Get Safe Online.

He warned that the scammer might also pretend to be from your estate agent, surveyor, or mortgage lender.

For example, a criminal might impersonate your building surveyor, charging you an up-front fee for a non-existent survey, or a mortgage lender requesting arrangement fees for a non-existent loan.  

What should I do if an email seems suspicious?  

In any circumstances, it is worth checking with your solicitor or estate agent in person or over the phone that their payment details are correct before you transfer your deposit or any large sum of money.

It is also important to be on lookout for variations in contact details or instructions from any party involved, whether it be the estate agent, solicitor, surveyor, mortgage lender or even the seller.

‘If anything seems irregular – or you just want to be sure – never be afraid or embarrassed to pick up the phone and call the party whom any communication claims to be from, on the number you know to be correct,’ said Neate.   

‘It’s better to be safe than sorry.’ 

If you think you have been a victim of a scam, the advice is to contact your bank and your solicitor immediately.

‘Customers should always remember to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to protect themselves from fraud,’ said Worobec.

‘Stop to take a moment to think, challenge whether it could be fake and if you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.’

Action Fraud is a police-run service where members of the public and businesses can report fraud.

Seven ways to spot a scam email

1) The sender’s address doesn’t match the website address of the organisation it says it’s from. Roll your mouse pointer over the sender’s name to reveal its true address

2) The email doesn’t use your proper name. It might use something like ‘Dear customer’ instead

3) There is a sense of urgency, asking you to act immediately

4) There’s a prominent website link which may seem like the proper address, but with one character different

5) The email makes a request for personal information

6) There are spelling and grammatical errors

7) The entire text of the email is within an image, rather than the usual text format, and the image contains an embedded hyperlink to a bogus site. Again, roll your mouse pointer over the link to reveal its true destination

source: dailymail.co.uk

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