By Jamie Melling, CEO, Smartnumbers
Every year, fraudsters attempt to take hundreds of millions of pounds from consumers using sophisticated property scams, from fraudulent Land Registry changes to deceitful landlord practices. In fact, last year the Land Registry paid out £5.3 million in compensation for fraud and inaccuracies within its register.
Recent figures also show that property fraud has doubled over the past 10 years, with many victims left penniless and homeless from criminal attempts at selling homes that didn’t belong to them. So, with an increasing number of people impacted by property fraud, what can banks do to help protect them?
Property fraud: a complex threat
With a myriad of tricks up fraudsters’ sleeves, it’s important for organisations and consumers to know what kind of attacks they might face. One of the most common types of property scams sees fraudsters act as buyers or sellers. When they act as a buyer, they’ll go along with the sale, then pull out just before it’s legally agreed. Unfortunately, the buying process gives scammers access to official documentation about the property enabling them to create a fraudulent version to dupe the Land Registry and transfer ownership to themselves. When they act as the seller, they’ll try to sell the property quickly, often at below market rate to speed up the purchase, before running off with the cash.
Deposit hijacking has also been on the rise. This scam happens during the conveyancing process when fraudsters hack into the solicitor’s network, then read through emails to identify a target. When the property deal is close to final, they’ll send a fake email with new payment details enclosed and request the deposit is transferred asap. As most buyers are ready to transfer their funds, and the amount requested is the amount they expect to pay, they often won’t think to question it. But as soon as the money has been transferred, the fraudster shuts down the account and moves it to a different account to hide their tracks. The consumer has then lost their deposit.
Pretending to be a landlord or a rental agent is another popular tactic. Many people renting in the UK are used to handling most of the process online, with only in-person visits happening when they visit the property. Fraudsters take advantage of this by posing as agents to pressurise renters into signing and transferring over a deposit. Once they receive the money, they vanish. There’s no doubt this rising threat should be front of mind for consumers and banks alike.
Combine education and technology
One of the biggest ways banks can help stop consumers from being duped by property fraud is education and awareness. The more information on fraud risks and tactics commonly used by criminals we arm the public with, the more difficult it will be for fraudsters to manipulate victims. This should include advice such as never disclosing security details, and always double-checking contact details for the recipient bank. Consumers also need to be encouraged to sense-check emails, texts or phone calls before responding to their requests.
Another step banks must consider is preventing fraudsters from gathering information by calling victims’ banks — in other words, put a stop to contact centre reconnaissance. Leveraging Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems or even online chatbots, fraudsters are able to harvest sensitive information that can be used to socially engineer customer service staff to access account details.
Smart technology that can analyse real-time telephony data, can address these vulnerabilities by allowing banks to identify high risk calls entering the contact centre before the call is answered. By analysing more than 200 features derived from carrier-level call signalling data, banks can identify suspicious callers, prompting contact centre agents to ask more security questions or passing the call to fraud operations teams. Also, scam warnings and interventions injected into online banking and mobile applications help create moments of reflection for customers encouraging them to think twice before transferring large sums of money. With property fraud on the rise, banks must consider updating their security strategies to ensure their customers’ accounts are protected.
You can make a difference
Banking contact centres can be centre stage in fraudsters’ complex attempts to obtain victims’ funds. That’s why banks, by tightening contact centre security, can play a critical role in protecting individuals from property fraud. Along with awareness campaigns for staff as well as the public, there are many tools and technologies available to address vulnerabilities in the contact centre and other channels. Bank customer service teams and fraud teams must work together to implement the right security tactics to make the fraudsters’ job as hard as possible, and safeguard customers’ funds.
As fraudsters get smarter and more sophisticated, fraudulent attempts in property and other industries will only become fiercer. But by educating call centre staff and consumers, and adopting the right tactics and technologies, banks can truly make a difference in thwarting fraud attempts and protecting their customers.
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