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It is a sad fact, but a reality, that fraud pervades our society. Criminals are constantly looking for new scams and schemes. In recent years, property fraud has been on the increase and scammers are more sophisticated than ever before. It is a frightening statistic that data from Home Owners Alliance property found that, in 2014, fraud in the UK totalled almost £10M.
The legal profession has been on ‘high alert’ for several years now because of this. However, there are also steps which homeowners can take to protect property; and as your property is likely to be your most valuable asset, these recommendations are strongly advisable.
All property is at risk but some are more vulnerable to fraud than others, particularly property that is:-
Property fraud comes in different forms but recent scams include hacking into emails between buyers and solicitors to intercept completion monies, fraudsters selling property using false documents, online shopping platforms offering property for sale by fraudsters and quick, ‘too good to be true’ investment scams.
Whether your property falls into one of the above categories or not, you should consider taking some of the following steps:-
VOLUNTARY FIRST REGISTRATION
Whilst most land in England and Wales is registered, there are still properties with titles that are not, particularly if the property has not changed hands since 1990. Upon a sale, an unregistered property would be subject to compulsory registration but, if a sale is not contemplated, it is also possible to make a voluntary application – and the Land Registry fees are discounted if you do! It is sensible to register now not only to protect against fraud but also because it will facilitate any future transactions, provide clear proof of ownership and allow a state guaranteed title.
The Land Registry has set up the “Property Alert Service” as a means to counter fraud. Alerts are sent by email to the owner if searches or applications are received for the property. Whilst this does not stop changes being made to the register, it puts the owner on notice of this, and provides a chance to take action. The Land Registry has a dedicated property fraud line too. It is possible to monitor up to 10 properties at a time and is particularly useful for landlords with a portfolio. It is also possible for more than one person to monitor a property which could be useful for relatives of an owner in care.
You can further safeguard your property by placing a restriction on your title. The upshot of this is that the Land Registry will not register a sale or mortgage of your property without a solicitor certifying that the application was made by you.
KEEP LAND REGISTRY UP TO DATE
It is vital that the Land Registry have accurate and up to date information for you. If they need to contact you, then they will do so using the ‘address for service’ specified. You are permitted to register up to three addresses for service and this can include email addresses, provided at least one is a postal address. So, for example, an investor/landlord client could register the address of the property, his or her residential postal address along with an email.
As the old adage goes “ A man’s home is his castle” – make sure you protect it!
Bolt Burdon’s residential property experts can assist with registrations and restrictions. For further information please contact Melanie Carroll on 020 7288 4798 or by email email@example.com.
You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the residential property team here.
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