Property fraud is on the rise
We are a nation obsessed with owning property. Our home is our castle, it cannot be stolen from us. It is tangible and solid and could never be sold from under our feet. This is not the case.
Property fraud is on the increase. The Land Registry has prevented 279 fraudulent registrations with a combined value of £133.4 million since 2009. Anyone owning a property can be targeted, with empty and unmortgaged homes usually most vulnerable. Fraudsters impersonate the owners, obtain false ID, or even change their names by Deed Poll in order to perpetrate a crime.
Solicitors and other professionals often get caught up in the middle, having acted for the fraudsters with all compliance checks having apparently been passed.
The land registration system was introduced with the aim of cutting out an old-fashioned paper process and to make it easier to identify the true owner of a piece of land. Whilst many of the reforms have been beneficial, an open electronic register has encouraged fraudsters to take advantage.
Anyone who owns property can potentially be targeted
If you obtain office copies of a property you can find out who owns it, whether they have another address, whether there are any charges registered against it, and often what the purchaser has paid for it. All this you can do for a few pounds.
The fraudsters are clever – they arrange for mail to be redirected, they watch your property, and in some cases the perpetrators are the tenants. They keep paying the rent. It is only after payments stop that the fraud comes to light. By which time the property has been sold and they are long gone.
You are more at risk if:
• Your identity has been stolen
• You rent out your property / purchase a buy-to-let property
• Your property is empty
• Your property is mortgage free
What can you do to protect yourself?
• Sign up to HM Land Registry Property Alert Service – this a free service provided that enables you to monitor up to 10 registered properties in England and Wales. It will alert you to transactions on your property such as a mortgage application or a sale, so that you can take immediate legal steps.
• Apply for a restriction to be entered on your title. You can place a restriction which will prevent the property being sold without your solicitor first certifying that they have identified you personally and that you have made the application. This is especially important in the case of an unmortgaged property. Fraudsters are unlikely to be interested in a mortgaged property as they know funds will be needed to repay the mortgage company before the property can be sold. They are more likely to try an easier target.
• If your property is empty carry out regular inspections – every 2-3 months at least.
If you think you are a victim
a) Take independent legal advice or contact Citizens’ Advice Bureau
b) Contact HM Land Registry on their Property fraud helpline on 0300 006 7030 or their email address email@example.com.