Scamwatch: 3 ways you could lose your home to fraudsters

Don't fall for these evil property scams.

3 ways you could lose your home to a scam

Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we reveal three ways unscrupulous criminals can leave you without a roof over your head, including by transferring the deeds into their name.

How does it work?

Homeowner Minh To, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, was "terrified" when he spotted his own five-bedroom home offered for sale on property website Rightmove - even though he had no intention of selling up.

The mystery was solved when police discovered two fraudsters had stolen his mail and used it to steal his identity, before forging his signature on the documents needed to auction the house.

The fraudsters in this case were able to transfer the deeds without needing authority from a bank because Ho had already paid off his mortgage.

Detective Sergeant Phil Larratt, of Greater Manchester Police, said: "As this case demonstrates, fraudsters can use your identity details to open new bank accounts, request new driving licences and even try and steal your own home."

Mail theft is just one way criminals can leave you homeless, though. In another recent case, British ex-soldier Lee John and his wife were duped into paying out more than €1,000 in the belief they were moving to a lovely new home in the south of France.

When they arrived, the property turned out not to exist and, in a tragic twist, Mr John took his own life just a few days later.

A number of potential home buyers have also fallen prey to fraudsters who hack into solicitors' emails accounts and then send out fake payment demands.

In some cases, those targeted have sent hundreds of thousands of pounds to the criminals' accounts - leaving them unable to buy the properties they had set their hearts on.

How can I avoid being caught out?

The best way to avoid being taken in by mail fraud is to ensure your post box is secure and check up on any expected mail that fails to arrive.

"We urge the public to secure their mail boxes and employ measures to protect their identities," Detective Sergeant Larratt said.

When it comes to dodgy property sales, meanwhile, be wary of any unsolicited letters, phone calls or emails from people trying to sell you property, and get a lawyer to look over the contract before signing up.

Ways of spotting solicitor email fraud include checking the firm's website is secure - the address for any site on which you make an online payment should start with HTTPS, rather than just HTTP.

If you receive a payment request, you should also double check it by calling the firm on a separately sourced number to check it is genuine.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?

If you realise your identity has been stolen, you should contact your bank and any other relevant organisations to secure your accounts immediately. Then report the scam to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040).

For dodgy property sales or solicitor scams: cease contact with the fraudsters as soon as you notice a problem, call your bank and solicitor to see if you can stop any payments made, and report the issue to Action Fraud.