Property fraud – What you can do to protect your home
Whilst the world has tried to adapt to an ever-changing landscape due to Covid-19 and lockdowns, one group that has taken full advantage of the pandemic is fraudsters. Unfortunately, the property and real estate market is a lucrative target.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, many properties in England and Wales have stood empty for months on end. This includes second homes, holiday homes, untenanted properties, and properties of deceased individuals whose beneficiaries are awaiting grant of probate before they are able to sell.
So how do fraudsters execute this scam? A fraudster can pretend to be anyone during a property transaction, such as a buyer, lender, conveyancer or even the owner, by stealing their identity. They often try to persuade a buyer or their conveyancer or lender that they are the registered legal owner of the property. They can then sell or mortgage the property and take the cash from either the proceeds of sale or mortgage advance.
An unfortunate recent example of this was where a man described his shock at returning to his house in Luton, only to find it had been sold without his knowledge whilst he was away for work. It became apparent a fraudster stole his identity by obtaining his driving licence, impersonating the victim and opening a bank account in the victim’s name to receive the proceeds of sale.
So, what can property owners do to negate this risk?
Property Alert Service
The Land Registry provides a free property monitoring service aimed at anyone who feels a registered property could be at risk from fraud. It allows owners to register and monitor up to 10 properties. Email alerts are sent to the owner when official searches and applications are received against a monitored property. You do not need to own the property, and this proves especially useful where the owner of a property lives overseas or lacks capacity. If you receive an email about an application that appears suspicious then you will be directed to the relevant contacts to take further action.
Putting a restriction on your title
Restrictions on a title limit what a registered owner (including one whose registration is fraudulent) can do. For example, if they are to sell or mortgage the property, it will require a conveyancer to certify that the disposition is being made by the true owner. However, whether a restriction is suitable will depend on your circumstances and you may need to take legal advice before placing a restriction on your title. This is because there are a number of different restrictions that can be entered and it largely depends on whether you own the property via a limited company or in your individual name and whether the property is occupied or unoccupied.
In the unlikely event that your property is unregistered, you are strongly advised to register your property at the Land Registry. You may require a conveyancer to do this, although the Land Registry practice guides provide further guidance on the steps involved to register an unregistered property.
As an owner of a property, you should ensure that the correspondence address on the register or title is kept up to date. Perhaps you may have moved since you bought the property and, if this is the case, your correspondence address should be updated in order for you to keep receiving notices from the Land Registry or any notices anyone else may need to send you. The Land Registry also accept overseas addresses for services and also email addresses. You can register up to three, and only one of these must be a postal address.
If you require further advice on this, or any other residential real estate matter, then please contact our team of experts.