Landlords more at risk of property fraud

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In a guest blog, Lynne Feddon, Counter Fraud Senior Executive, Land Registry, warns about a worrying property fraud...

 

Property is a valuable asset and as such, can be tempting to fraudsters. If you don’t think it’s possible to ‘steal’ a property, think again.

As a member of Land Registry’s counter fraud group, I see a range of property frauds being attempted against homeowners. When fraudsters succeed, the consequences can be devastating for the victims. That’s why I’m keen to make as many property owners as possible aware of what they can do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

What is property fraud?

Property can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and can therefore be an attractive target for fraudsters. Fraudsters will try to steal the homeowner’s identity and sell or mortgage their property by pretending to be them. If it isn’t discovered promptly, the true property owner might find their property has been mortgaged or sold without their knowledge. Putting it right can be distressing, time-consuming and costly. Prevention is therefore better than cure.

Who is most at risk?

You are more at risk if your property:

•           is rented out

•           is empty, such as if the owner is abroad or in a care home

•           is mortgage-free

•           isn’t registered with Land Registry

How property fraud can happen

A recent case shows how property fraud can happen:

Penny Hastings called Land Registry’s property fraud line after becoming suspicious that someone had fraudulently sold the property which she had been renting out. It turned out the tenant was part of a fraud ring – he’d rented Penny’s house using a false identity and an accomplice had changed her name to Penny Hastings by deed poll, then got a passport in that name in order to pretend to be the real owner. The fraudsters then put the house on the market and an unwitting buyer paid £1.3m for the property which they thought was being legally sold. However, Land Registry suspected a fraud so did not register the sale. This meant that Penny Hastings still maintains the legal ownership of the property. Unfortunately, the fraudsters obtained the buyer’s money. The police are currently investigating the fraud. 

How can you protect yourself?

  • Sign up for Land Registry’s free Property Alert service. You will receive an email alert when there is certain activity on a monitored property such as if someone tries to register a mortgage. You can monitor up to 10 properties and if you receive an alert, you can judge whether the activity is suspicious and seek further advice if necessary. The property/ies you want to monitor must be registered with Land Registry.
  • Ensure your property is registered so that if you become a victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss, you can be compensated. If your property isn’t registered then no compensation is payable. Most properties in England and Wales are registered. Those most likely to be unregistered are properties that haven’t changed hands or been mortgaged since 1990. Find out about registering land
  • Make sure your contact details are up-to-date so Land Registry can reach you easily. You can have up to three addresses on the register including an email address or an address abroad. If your details are not up to date, you may not receive Land Registry’s letters or emails if they need to contact you.
  • Owners who feel their property might be at risk can have a restriction entered on their property. A restriction is intended to stop activity, such as a transfer or a mortgage, unless a conveyancer or solicitor confirms the application was made by you. There is no fee to home owners who do not live in the property they wish to protect. Request a restriction.

If you think you may be the victim of property fraud:

For more information visit www.gov.uk/propertyfraud or watch our 3 minute video on YouTube


Posted by Lynne Feddon, Counter Fraud Senior Executive, Land Registry on 20 September 2016

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