Since September 2009, HM Land Registry has prevented 400 fraudulent applications being registered, representing properties valued in excess of £207 million.
What is Property Fraud?
Property fraud is when criminals try to steal your property. They often do this by using falsified documents to assume your identity. Pretending to be you they then transfer the property into their own name. With the property in their name they can raise mortgages against, or sell, your property without you knowing. In a recent widely reported case a man was shocked to discover that his home of 30 years had been sold without his knowledge whilst he was working away.
Which properties are most at risk?
It is key to point out that any property can fall victim to property fraud and there are some cases where it has occurred even when the owners are living there. However, some properties are more vulnerable than others. The following properties are commonly considered to be most vulnerable:
Empty properties - these can be homes that are owned by someone who has gone into care or died, lives abroad, works away or takes long holidays. As they are empty the criminals are hoping you will not notice until its too late.
Buy-to-let properties - As above this could be when there is no tenant in occupation and the house is empty. However there is a different risk when there is a tenant. Criminals have been known to use a stolen identity to become legitimate looking tenants. Once in, and sometimes keeping up appearances by paying rent for a few month, the criminal will then impersonate the owner and sell the property.
Mortgage free properties. These are particularly inviting to criminals committing property fraud as their aim is to make as much money as possible and when the property is mortgage free they will receive almost the entirety of the sale proceeds.
Unregistered properties. These are properties not registered at the Land Registry (If you are unsure whether your home is registered please read our article 'Is your Property Unregistered?')
Whilst the Land Registry have been able to stop some cases they cannot spot them all, so it is important to help protect yourself against property theft.
What can you do?
To help protect yourself, you should at least consider the following:
If your property is unregistered then you should register your property at the Land Registry. (Our article 'Is your Property Unregistered?' contains a form that allows us to search whether your property is registered, free of charge, as well as providing information about the registration procedure and any associated costs of registration)
Sign up to HM Land Registry's free Property Alert service
What is HM Land Registry's free Property Alert service?
It is a completely free service from the Land Registry in which they will send you an email alert each time there is significant activity on the property you are monitoring, such as if a new mortgage is taken out against it. The alert will tell you the type of activity, who the applicant is and the date and time it has been received. Following the case mentioned earlier, when someone working away came back to find their home under new ownership, the Land Registry is now pushing to make this a mandatory requirement following a purchase. You can even monitor the property of a relative; you don’t have to own a property to set up an alert. (*limit of 10 properties)
Signing up to Property Alert won’t automatically stop fraud from happening but, it serves as an early warning system and if you decide that the the activity on the property is potentially fraudulent it allows you to act quickly.
Best of all ITS FREE and can be done yourself.
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