How to protect your property from fraud
Property fraud can happen to anyone in many different ways. We are seeing an increase in property fraud activities from fraudsters as their tactics are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. Fraudsters may attempt to acquire ownership of your property either by using forged documents to transfer it into their own name or by impersonating the registered owner. The reality is that many property owners are unaware that the personal information that is held by the Land Registry is available to view easily on the official Land Registry website. This unfortunately also includes fraudsters. They can easily find out who owns a property, lender details, their correspondence address and even their signature samples.
Properties that are vacant, tenanted, being refurbished or mortgage free are considered more susceptible to fraud. However, mortgage free properties, as well as those with mortgages, are still targeted. It is common that fraudsters may attempt to acquire ownership of a property by using a forged document or to transfer the property into their own name by impersonating the registered property owner. Here are some top tips from our own solicitor David Woodward on how to protect yourself and your family from property fraud. Property is usually the most valuable asset people own in the United Kingdom, therefore, it is important to protect it from the risk of fraud.
Fraudsters are targeting properties by pretending to be you or members of your family so they can try and sell or mortgage your property without your knowledge. They may steal your identity and then attempt to mortgage or sell your property by pretending to be you. Anybody who owns, or is in the process of buying a property, could potentially be targeted by property scams. However, some are at more risk than others. Fraudsters will often target properties where there is no mortgage in place, or where the owner resides elsewhere if the property is rented or the property is unregistered. It is therefore important to protect yourself against such a fraud which is more easily committed in these circumstances.
According to Gov.uk and the Land Registry, you are at greater risk if:
- Your identity has been stolen
- You rent out your property
- The property’s empty
- The property is being refurbished
- You live overseas
- The property isn’t mortgaged or ‘Mortgage Free’
- If the property is unregistered
- If the property is not registered with HM Land Registry
Over the last 10 years, around £55 million has been paid out under the indemnity scheme because of forgeries. This is a significant sum and so, wherever possible, HM Land Registry will try to recover indemnity payments from wrongdoers who have caused or contributed to the fraud. We strongly believe that you should not become a victim of property fraud and advise that you take these precautionary steps.
Sign up to the Land Registry Property Alert Service
Once you have signed up to the service, you will receive email alerts when certain activity occurs on your monitored properties, allowing you to take action if and when necessary. This service is free to set up via www.gov.uk/property-alert. Once you have signed up to this service the Land Registry property alert service will notify you of certain applications affecting the property you have registered for monitoring. If there is a change of ownership, for example, or a new mortgage placed on the property you will receive a notification alert. You are able to monitor up to ten registered properties in England and Wales. It is important to note that you don’t have to own the property, so could monitor the property for an elderly relative. Alerts are normally sent by email however, you can still use the service if you are not on-line by contacting HM Land Registry on 0300 006 0478. If you are to receive an alert about a suspicious activity you should take action immediately and contact the Land Registry Fraud Line on 0300 006 7030 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5 pm).
Ensure your property is registered at the Land Registry
You should make sure that your property is registered at HM Land Registry. Your property will be registered if you bought it or mortgaged it since 1998. If you’re unsure, you can check with the Land Registry who will be able to confirm whether it is registered or not. If your property is registered and you are a victim of property fraud where you suffer financial losses, you will be compensated through the Land Registry indemnity scheme. If your property is not currently registered with the Land Registry, then you can apply voluntarily for this to be registered. The Land Registry charges a discounted fee for voluntary registrations and we can prepare these applications for you at arrisons’Harrison’s Solicitors.
Once your property is registered, it is imperative that you keep your contact details up to date. You can include an email address or an address overseas. If you do not live at the property and have moved addresses since the original property purchase, keeping contact details up to date is particularly important. Many Landlords with buy-to-let properties often overlook reviewing and updating their rental property portfolio contact details when they themselves move home.
Get a restriction against the property
If you particularly feel that your property is at risk from fraud, you can apply for a restriction to be placed on your property designed to help prevent forgery and fraudulent activities. The restriction is intended to stop activity on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor confirms the application was made by you. The Land Registry does not charge a fee for this restriction to be entered as long as the homeowners don’t live in the property they wish to protect. This restriction prevents the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on your restricted property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was submitted by you. We at Harrison’s Solicitors can help with conveyancing and certification restrictions against properties. It is important that you do all that you can to protect your property and investments.
David Woodward from Harrison’s Solicitor’s states that there are several ways in which you can also take steps to protect yourself and your properties:
If the property is unregistered, we advise that you submit your title deeds to the land registry as a voluntary application to have your deeds registered. It is only compulsory to register title if you purchase a title that is unregistered at the point of sale or mortgage charge. You can also ask your solicitor to apply for a restriction to be placed on the registers. This states that the property cannot be transferred or mortgaged without your solicitor or conveyancer supplying a certificate to the land registry and that the person applying to change the register is you. Any solicitor or conveyancer is obliged to carry out identity checks on their clients whenever a transaction takes place. It is vital to keep your contact details up to date with HM Land Registry so that they are able to contact you if required. You are allowed to give up to three contact addresses which may be an email address or an address abroad.
If you suspect that a property fraud is taking or has taken place, then you should call the property fraud line at the land registry on 0300 006 7030 or for more details visithttps://www.gov.uk/protect-land-property-from-fraud
For further information or advice in respect of protecting your property, please contact us direct
|Reading Office – Harrison’s Solicitors
7 Castle Street
RG1 7SBTel: 0118 321 2979
|Caversham Office – Harrison’s Solicitors
1 Prospect Street
RG4 8JBTel: 0118 321 9651
|Woodley Office – Harrison’s Solicitors
72 Headley Road
RG5 4JETel: 0118 321 9773