The Property Scams We're Being Urgently Warned To Look Out For

And yes, they affect both homeowners *and* renters.
New home key
Peter Dazeley via Getty Images
New home key

As if finding a home wasn’t stressful enough, it seems that “71% of the value of fraud in the UK was property related, with an estimated £216 million lost.”

At least, that’s according to Jack Malnick at, who also shares that “Google trend data shows that searches for “property scam” have risen by 909% in the last month.”

He adds that both homeowners and renters could be at risk (bad news for my serial-subletting self).

So, we thought we’d dig into the most common property fraud crimes in the UK with him. Here are the most common offences:

1) Email hacking (or “Friday afternoon fraud)

Most of us know better than to share our personal info with strangers.

But when you’re buying a home, you’re forced to exchange personal information – and a lot of money – basically from the get-go.

Malnick says that hackers can break into the emails of either a buyer or seller and lurking there, sometimes for weeks, months, and even years, until they can send a scam email posing as a legitimate party.

Then, they’ll ask for a huge transfer to be made to their bank account.

“They can send emails from the conveyancer’s real email address, or if it’s the buyer’s emails that have been hacked, they’ll make a new email account with a similar address to the real one, usually with one character changed,” says Malnick.

To protect yourself, Malnick suggests that you “send (your conveyancer) a small amount, like £1, and call them on their registered phone number to make sure they have received it, and only send the full deposit once this has been confirmed.”

2) Fake buyers could use your home as collateral without ever actually purchasing it

New fear unlocked: apparently, the details that you give to an apparent buyer can be all a scammer needs to secure the title deeds to your home.

“Fake buyers can pretend to make an offer on your property and withdraw it right before completing, and they use the information they gathered in the offer process to commit title fraud,” says Malnick. Some may also flat-out attempt to sell your home (ah, lovely).

“The scammer changes the title deeds of the property into their name and can then apply for loans using your home as collateral,” Malnick says.

He adds that homes where the owner is away often, or empty homes, are especially susceptible to such scams, and that “properties without a mortgage, properties that are rented out, and people who have previously had their identity stolen” are also easier targets.

Want to keep your home safe? Thankfully, the solution is pretty simple – “You can sign up to HM Land Registry property alerts, which will let you know if anyone tries to change the register of your property so you can take action,” says Malnick.

“You can also put a restriction on your title, so that HM Land Registry can’t register a sale unless a solicitor or conveyancer confirms that the application was made by you.”

Catch me forwarding that URL to every homeowner I know...

3) And yes, you can get fake sellers too

It’s not just buyers who can scam unsuspecting homeowners.

Malnick says that especially in the case of holiday homes, “Villas and apartments are advertised on sites like Facebook and eBay using photos taken from legitimate estate agent websites, and then the scammer will ask for a deposit before you’re able to go and see the property.“

Some will even ask for the full price up-front, Malnick warns.

“Do a reverse image search to see if the photos have been used elsewhere,” he suggests.

“If they’re linked to an estate agent, contact them directly. Don’t send any money until you’ve seen the property for yourself and have confirmed that it is real, and really for sale.”

4) There are fake landlords too

Anyone who’s tried to rent so much as a room in the UK recently will know how gruelling the process can be.

And Malnick says landlords are taking advantage of our desperation, listing rooms and flats that don’t exist and taking deposits or even months of rent.

“They may even send a tenancy agreement to make it seem legitimate, but then after you’ve sent them a deposit and first month’s rent, they are not heard from again. You may even arrive at the property and find someone else living there, who has no knowledge of it being rented out,” he said – another thrilling development in the UK housing crisis.

Like the fake home seller scam, Malnick recommends you only pay for places you’ve seen yourself and know are for rent or sale.

5) Landlords can engineer a rent competition

We’ve probably all heard of bidding wars on rental flats, which are dire in and of themselves.

But Malnick says landlords can add even more pressure to an already-stressful scenario by placing a fake buyer in the room with your while you’re viewing the flat, and making you outbid them to secure the property.

Whether it’s a direct fake renter scam or if your landlord just cites market pressures, though, Malnick says that “By law in England, deposits are capped and can only be up to five weeks rent. Make sure you don’t pay any more than is actually legal.”

Welcome to episode 4756587 of UK housing woes...