What is property fraud?
Property fraud involves someone “stealing” your house, either by selling or re-mortgaging your home whilst pretending to be you - usually without your knowledge.
If you have been a recent victim of identity theft you should be alert to the possibility of property fraud. Other categories of people or property who are considered to be at high risk of property fraud include the following.
Top 5 Categories of Property Owners at Risk From Property Fraud:
- Empty Property
Owning an empty building is not without risk. Not only is your home more at risk of property fraud, it can also be expensive to insure and compliance with both insurance and mortgage conditions is essential. Other matters to bear in mind are vandalism, the property being open to potential trespassers, and the fact that it can speedily deteriorate in the absence of someone living there and looking after the property. This is often the case where people are in long term hospital or residential care.
- Rented Property
Whilst having tenants in your house can help to protect your property from vandalism, renting out your property does not make you immune from property fraud. If you rent out your property, bear in mind that your tenants could attempt to sell or mortgage your home without your knowledge by “stealing” your identity.
- Mortgage Free Property
Whilst having paid off the mortgage might be great for you, it can also make life easier for fraudsters as it is easier to sell or mortgage the property without your knowledge.
- Live Abroad
If you live abroad, there is a higher chance that someone will try to take advantage of the fact you are not in the country and attempt to sell your house while you are not present to prevent them from doing so. The risks are similar for those who live far away from their property or in a care home.
- Family Disputes
There have been cases where a couple divorce or separate and one tries to sell the property without the other one knowing.
What Can You do to Protect Yourself From Property Fraud?
You can proactively seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureaux on how best to protect yourself from property fraud or if you become a victim they can also advise you on the best steps to take.
Most properties are registered at the Land Registry. This means that the Land Registry has a central record of all land ownership in England and Wales. However, you must ensure that your details are kept up to date (e.g. on divorce/ death).
However, some properties are not registered at the Land Registry and either your bank/building society (if the property is mortgaged) or you (if your mortgage has been paid off) will hold the title deeds for the property. This tends to be the case if a property has not been bought, sold or mortgaged since around 1988. If this is the case, it is worth applying for what is known as first registration of title and an application is made to the Land Registry to register your ownership of the property.
You can take an extra step of either putting a restriction on your title or track changes to the register. Putting a restriction on your title stops the Land Registry from registering the sale or mortgage of your property unless contacted by a conveyancing lawyer who is able to certify that the application for the sale or mortgage was made by you.
You should report instances of property fraud to Action Fraud the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre.
Action Fraud have recently seen an increase in the number of people who have reported that they have been targeted by fraudsters who have given false bank account details to get them to send the money to when purchasing a house.
Slater and Gordon residential property lawyers deal with residential freehold and leasehold conveyancing. This includes re-mortgaging, transfers of equity and equity release schemes. If you require any of our services call our specialist property solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9083 or contact us online.
Helen Heeley is a professional support lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers real estate team in Manchester.
To read more, see our previous blog How do I Prevent Property Fraud?