Property fraud is a real concern that can sadly affect anyone who owns property. It is something everyone should be vigilant of, and should your property be in the higher risk category, or your suspicion is aroused you should consider taking steps before it is too late.
What is property fraud?
There are different methods which criminals may use to fraudulently obtain the benefit of a property that they do not own. It can occur where a criminal tries to impersonate a property owner to sell or mortgage a property with false or stolen ID. Similarly, a criminal may steal a property owner’s identity to transfer the property to their name or use information they have obtained as a fake buyer of a property to forge documents to transfer or charge the property.
Which properties are at higher risk fraud?
Properties that are at more risk than others are for example:
- Rented out
- Mortgage- free
- Owners who live oversea
- Owners moved into long term care/ assisted living.
Although, it can be possible for fraudsters to target all types of property. If you do not fall within the list above, it does not mean your will be safe necessarily.
Are there any tips on how to avoid property fraud?
- Be vigilant: If you suddenly start to lose post (especially bank statements or utility bills) or if you start receiving post in another person’s name this could be an indicator that someone is either trying to steal your identity or take out a mortgage in to be registered against your property. You should inform the authorities and consider taking further steps to protect your property from being sold by a third party.
- Set up Alerts: The Land Registry offers a free alert service which will notify you if any application is made to change the register for your property. Whilst this will not prevent the application going through it will give you early notification of something unusual so you can act. You can set up an alert here. You could also set an alert with an online property search website such as Rightmove or Zoopla to receive notifications of when properties are advertised for sale in your area. This could help if the fraudster tries to sell the property through an estate agent.
- Verify your Identity: Another option is to add a restriction to the property register held with the Land Registry. This requires that a solicitor or conveyancer provides a specific certificate to confirm the person dealing with the property is the true owner before any application will be processed. You can speak to a solicitor about adding a restriction or do this yourself. More information can be found on the Land Registry website.
- Check how the property is owned: If you own a property jointly with someone else, you should take advice about how the property is owned between you to ensure your interest is protected. If you wait until your relationship breaks down, it may be more difficult to come to legally rectify the position if the other party refuses to engage or sign documents. It may also allow the joint owner to deal with the property without your knowledge if you are not a registered as an owner at the Land Registry.
- Get it registered: If your property is unregistered then you can voluntarily register your ownership at any time. Please do speak to a solicitor or conveyancer about this process.