Protect yourself from Property Fraud
Property fraud in the UK is rare, but instances of it are increasing, so how can you protect your property?
This type of sophisticated crime essentially involves a fraudster tricking others into believing they are the true owner of the property and then when it is sold, they take the proceeds of the sale as their own. The new owner may acquire the title to the property legitimately, which leaves the original owner suffering a significant loss.
Property fraud and identity fraud are closely linked and it is typically done by the fraudster applying for documents such as a driving licence or passport but with their photograph used instead of the property owner. In some cases, fraudsters have changed their name to match the property owner. With these documents a fraudster will then contact a solicitor and the sale transaction will take place. Properties most at risk of being targeted are typically empty houses, rental properties, unmortgaged properties and homes left empty for long periods.
It can often take a property owner some time to find out their property has been sold and by that time, the fraudster has taken the money and disappeared.
You can take steps to protect your property by first checking it is registered with the Land Registry and if it isn’t, you can register it using form FR1. You should also make sure the contact details they hold for you are for where you are living, rather than the property itself, as if you don’t live there, that makes it harder for post to be intercepted.
You can also sign up to the free Land Registry Property Alert Service, www.propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk which will send you an alert by email when searches or applications are made against the property. This can be used to monitor up to ten properties and you could also monitor the properties of elderly family members on their behalf.
You can also put in place a restriction on the title deeds which will prevent HM Land Registry from registering a sale or new mortgage on the property without the certification of a conveyancer or solicitor, who will verify the application was made by the true owner. If you are a business owner or don’t live at the property then this can be done for free via an application form, but if you live at the property there is a £40 fee payable.
If you suspect fraud in relation to any property you own then you should report it to the Land Registry Fraud line, T: 0300 006 7030 and Action Fraud and your local police station. A solicitor can help you with the recovery of the money and or the property, but this isn’t always straight forward as the new owner of the property may have bought the property in good faith and they may have also been a victim of the fraudster.
If you would like advice about any aspect of residential property ownership, contact our team today.