What is property fraud?
Your home is likely to be your greatest asset, and few would think it could be stolen. However, increasingly sophisticated cases of identity theft have seen unlawful mortgaging of property and property sales, leaving the true owner unaware, and often with serious legal consequences.
A stolen identity
In August 2021, Reverend Mike Hall, working in north Wales at the time, was informed that someone had been staying at his house in Luton. He drove to his property the next day only to find that his key did not work and that building works were being carried out. Mr Hall’s identity had been stolen to sell the property and collect the proceeds of the sale.
So who owns the house now?
Legally, the new owner, who bought the property in good faith, now owns the house. The fraud against Rev. Hall saw him lose his house and all his possessions. The next step would be to make a legal claim through HM Land Registry in order to seek compensation.
Am I at risk?
You are more at risk if your property:
- is let out
- is empty or vacant
- is mortgage-free
- is not registered with the HM Land Registry.
- Criminals may attempt to sell or mortgage a property by impersonating an owner using false or stolen ID.
In the case of Rev. Hall, criminals managed to sell the property by impersonating the owner. If you are already selling your property, fraudsters may also use false ID to pretend to be a buyer and make an offer, then withdraw before exchanging. The information they will have learned during the process could assist them to commit title fraud on the owner of the property.
What can I do?
The Property Alert scheme offered by the Land Registry is a free property monitoring service to help mitigate against the risk of fraud. Homeowners can sign up to receive email alerts when activity occurs on monitored properties, so that action can be taken if necessary. For example, if official searches or applications are received against a monitored property, this would serve as a warning of suspicious activity and a possible attempt to defraud.
The Land Registry website provides all the information you will need to register but the salient points to keep in mind are:
- The property(ies) you want to monitor must be situated in England or Wales and registered with HM Land Registry.
- You must create an online Property Alert account to use the service.
- You can monitor up to 10 properties.
- The service is free of charge.
The Land Registry has a dedicated Property Alert team who can provide further details on: 0300 006 0478.
Protect yourself for peace of mind
Although a free service, figures suggest that those signed up for the Land Registry Property Alert reflects just 1% of UK property owners. Protecting your property can be as simple as a five-minute task, and well worth it! A property sale inevitably deals in large sums of money. A good solicitor will be aware of cybercrime and warning signs of possible identity fraud. Speak to our Residential Property team for more information about how we look out for your security.