Vigilance is now crucial, especially concerning money and property. The same applies to property and property transactions, as it has become easier to scam people without raising red flags. We will look at some of the crimes that have been on the rise in the property industry and how you can identify them.
Cyber vigilance has become essential, especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as there has been a dramatic shift to switching to digital channels regarding money and property transactions. Property technology has accelerated this switch and has made it easier for people to search and shop for property online. Though searching and shopping for properties online might be convenient, it has also contributed to increases in cybercrime, fake news and fraudsters, as it is reported that these issues have tripled.
To ensure that sellers, landlords, buyers, tenants and property agents remain safe, they need to become more vigilant as fraudsters and scammers are becoming smarter. Property investment is known to be a stable asset which is why it attracts reputable buyers and criminals. The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) stated that laundering money using property transactions is quite common. It is also easy as the illicit funds can be integrated into the legal economy while providing a safe investment. Property investment presents the opportunity for criminals to have an income from illegal property investment. Still, the reason they came to own the property is often not always known.
With local property transactions, there will be a paper trail such as estate agencies, banks, conveyancers and attorneys. The process will also restrict attorneys from receiving the funds and registering the property. It also means that some due diligence about the origin of the funds falls away. However, some unfortunate trends include criminals using opaque financing or cash to purchase a property. Criminals may use false documentation or work with a suspicious company, making it challenging to ascertain who the actual owner is in the transaction. Some criminals may even pay more for rent on a property so they can use it for illegal activities that may be unknown to the property owner.
How to stay safe in property crimes
The first scam you need to be aware of is fake property news which includes wild statements and dramatic claims about how bad or well the market is doing. This information which is usually second-hand and distorted, is meant to trick you. To ensure the information you receive is accurate, you should speak to a well-established property agent and find out more information about properties for rent or sale.
Be wary of fake agents who may claim to offer a low commission or claim to get you a higher price. Verify the agent first by checking that they are registered with the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (PPRA) and possess a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate (FFC).
There fake landlords and sellers that may be pretending to be travelling or staying overseas but are selling or renting their property should be guarded against. Firstly, take your time to verify the existence of the property and the identity of the agent or better yet, you can avoid it as there are plenty of legitimate properties available on the market.
You may stumble upon fake property advertisements, and these adverts aim to trick you into handing over your money. These adverts contain information and photos copied from property portals and will often come with low prices. When searching for property, only respond to those listed on legitimate websites. If a property listing looks cheap, it is likely a scam.
You may encounter fake tenants or buyers that ask you directly or with mortgage-approved offers or upfront cash, and you should verify these first. If you allow this tenant to move into your property, it may be the last time that you see any cash, and they could potentially damage your property. It could also lead to an arduous and costly eviction process.
Suppose you encounter an agent constantly coming up with excuses and delay tactics. In that case, it may be a sign that the agent may have illegally advertised a mandate for the property. It could also be a scam where they hope to get your bank details or receive money from you. Simply walk away and look for a secure property. If there are no physical meet-ups between you and the agent, this is a sign that this isn’t a legitimate listing. Any credible agent would introduce themselves to you; they would not randomly email or message you. Take the time to verify the agent’s identity and ensure that the property truly exists before you take action.
Refrain from allowing strangers to view your property without verifying their identity , as there are plenty of stories of criminals that pose as buyers or tenants. Instead, you should work with a credible property practitioner as they will manage viewings and verify the visitors, which will minimize risks.
Ensure that you have seen the property and you have also verified the validity of the request. You should also verify requests before you take any actions, especially if you are involved in property transactions and receive requests from conveyancers or agents. Lastly, be wary of handing out your bank details and paying deposits unless you have met the agent.