Anybody can be the victim of property fraud. However, there are certain categories of people and property more susceptible than others.
- Owners who do not live at the property (e.g. elderly owners who have moved into care homes, those working abroad, holiday home owners or where the relationship has broken down).
- Vacant properties and those properties undergoing redevelopment.
- Properties with no mortgage.
- Tenanted properties.
- Unregistered properties where title is not registered at the Land Registry.
- Anyone who has already been the victim of identity fraud.
In England and Wales, your property will be registered at the Land Registry (LR) if you bought or mortgaged it since 1988. The LR system is open to public view. Since October 2003, the LR has dispensed with paper land certificates which used to be proof of ownership of property.
Be on Your Guard
Fraudulent transactions usually include an element of identity fraud. Often, fraudulent documents are presented to the LR to transfer someone else’s property into another name or to raise a mortgage. Once money has been raised by mortgaging the property, without the owner’s knowledge, the fraudster disappears without making repayments. In other cases, there may be a “bogus” law firm or a fictitious branch office of a bona fide law firm or sometimes even a rogue conveyancer.
Fraud is more easily perpetrated in the situations where the owner is not living at the property so that notices from the LR may not reach the actual owner.
Top Tips to Prevent Property Fraud
- Ensure the Land Registry has up to date contact details. You can have up to 3 addresses in the register and this is useful if the registered proprietor does not live at the property.
- Make sure that any post is re-directed after a property has been sold or let.
- Apply for voluntary registration of title if your land is not registered at the LR. Sometimes it is the case that land has been held for a number of years, for example, by charities and there have been no sales triggering the requirement for compulsory first registration with the LR. Having a registered title gives better protection against any third parties who may claim rights over or ownership of the land and it does help with day to day dealings.
- Sign up to the Land Registry’s property alert service. This is a free service and you will receive email alerts when certain activities occur on your monitored properties allowing you to take necessary action, for example, if someone tries to use your property for a mortgage.
- Business owners - if you are a company owning property you can apply for a restriction to be entered on the LR register. There is no fee and it is easy to do.
- If you do not live at the property, you can still apply to enter a restriction.
- Contact the LR Property Fraud Line. This was launched in February 2013 for home owners to alert the LR with any concerns that their property may be subject to a fraudulent sale or mortgage. You can speak to professionally trained staff for practical guidance. Telephone number: 0300 006 7030 or report via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Economic times remain difficult and fraudulent activity may still be on the increase. However, by taking sensible precautions, owners can reduce their risk.
If you need any legal advice regarding your property please contact our expert team of Property Solicitors at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9083 or contact us online and we will call you back.
Slater and Gordon are one of the UK’s largest law firms with offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Derby, Merseyside, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield and meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire and in Hull, Yorkshire.