Homebuyers warned of scams as end of stamp duty holiday looms

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Homebuyers have been warned to take steps to avoid being scammed during their purchase and after they move, with criminals targeting large sums of money, including house deposits.

The looming end of the stamp duty holiday has fuelled a boom in the property market as people attempt to secure a new home without having to pay tax.

But UK Finance, the organisation representing financial firms, said buyers were in danger of being manipulated by fraudsters into paying money into the wrong account.

The Guardian has covered several cases of emails from solicitors being intercepted and replaced by new messages containing payment details for fraudsters’ accounts, including one where a homebuyer was tricked into sending more than £300,000 to criminals.

In the first half of 2020, UK Finance said £16.2m had been lost from personal accounts through frauds involving customers being sent fake emails with new payment details. Other scams movers are at risk from include identity theft, in which letters sent to old addresses are used by criminals to apply for credit or benefits in their name.

Katy Worobec, the managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, told PA Media: “Moving house can be a stressful time; however, it’s vital to remember to take steps which could keep you safe from scams.

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“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 housebuying process, such as your deposit.”

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UK Finance said buyers should be alert to emails purporting to contain new payment details from firms they are already dealing with, or duplicate invoices for services.

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It said there had also been instances of criminals pretending to be from an estate agent and asking for personal details, claiming the mover is due a “refund”.

It advised customers to check payment details with agents or solicitors by phone before transferring money.

To avoid identity theft, it said householders should ensure they had notified banks, building societies and other organisations of a change of address, and set up a redirection service to catch any other post.