Protecting your land and property from fraud

08/11/2021

Criminals and fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in actively targeting property sales and purchases by committing fraud.

What is property fraud?

Property fraud is when a fraudster pretends to be a party involved in a property transaction such as the owner, buyer, borrower, or Solicitor. It can be very attractive to fraudsters if they successfully persuade a buyer, their Solicitor, or a mortgage lender into believing they are the true owner. They then try to sell or mortgage the property to get monies from either the purchase funds or the mortgage advance. This often involves the impersonation of the registered owner.

Types of fraud

  • Fraudsters Impersonating the current owners
  • Fraudsters forging documents to mortgage a property to convince a mortgage lender that they own the property, which leaves the owner liable for the debt.
  • Fraudsters intercepting Solicitors and client emails pretending to be the Solicitor

There have been recent cases of sellers’ returning home after being away for a period of time to find that there is a person living in their property, the locks have been changed, all their possessions have been removed and the person in possession claiming to have recently just bought the property. This is an example of what happens when fraudsters impersonate a seller by forging documents and using identity theft to instruct solicitors to sell the property.

Since September 2009, HM Land Registry has prevented 254 fraudulent applications being registered, representing properties valued in excess of £117m but there are always a few fraudulent applications that slip through the net.3

Properties most at risk

  1. Rental Properties – These are a much easier target as the owner does not live in the property.
  2. Mortgage-free Properties – Without having a mortgage over the property, it is easier for the Fraudster to transfer the deeds over. There is no mortgage lender to carry out additional checks and no repayment of any mortgages.
  3. Owner Lives Abroad – When the owner of a property lives abroad, it is harder for them to keep track of the property from overseas.
  4. High Value – When a property is high in value, it is more appealing to Fraudsters as the higher the value the more valuable the property is to them and the more money the Fraudster can make.
  5. Vacant – When a property is vacant, there are no current tenants, the owner has died or the owner has gone into care, it is much easier for the Fraudster to transfer the property from the owner to themselves.

Tips for protecting yourself from becoming a victim of fraud

  • Sign up for the Land Registry Alert Service.
  • Have a restriction entered on the Property Deeds to prohibit a sale or registration without a certificate signed by the Solicitors or Conveyancer acting to confirm that they are satisfied you are the registered proprietor.
  • Keep the Land Registry records updated. If you no longer live in a property that you own, contact the Land Registry to update your address for service.
  • Obtain Solicitors banking details at the outset of the Transaction and never send monies to any account details provided by email.
  • Avoid posting on social media about buying / selling a property as Fraudsters may get hold of this information and seek to target you.
  • Set strong passwords and make sure that your anti-virus software is up to date.
  • Avoid using public or unprotected Wi-fi systems.

Land Registry Alert Service

We would strongly recommend that you sign up to the Land Registry Alert Service to take steps to help protect your property against fraud.

The Land Registry also encourage people to set up a property alert to warn them if someone attempts to alter key details of their property online.

The property you want to monitor must be situated in England or Wales and registered with HM Land Registry and you will be required to set up an account with the Property Alert Service which you can add up to 10 properties and receive Alerts when activity takes place.

The alerts will notify you if there has been an official search or application made to the Land Registry on your property. The alerts are sent to you by email and they will notify you who to contact should you receive an alert about activity that seems to be suspicious.

Should you not have access to an email address you can call the Property Alert team on 0300 006 0478.

More information

For more information contact our residential property team here.   

This article was written by Sara Watkins, Property Executive in the Residential Prioperty team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of November 2021.

08/11/2021

Authors

Sara Watkins

Associate

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