Property fraud occurs when someone tries to ‘steal’ your property and use it for their benefit. Usually it is committed by a fraudster assuming your identity to sell or mortgage your property without you knowing.
It is a growing problem and one that all property owners are at risk of. In recent years, the Land Registry has been forced to intervene in hundreds of transactions to prevent fraud on properties valued at tens of millions of pounds.
Adam McDonagh, residential property lawyer FSM Solicitors explains the risk factors and what you can do to avoid falling victim to property fraud.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who owns a property is at risk of property fraud, but those in the most vulnerable position are people who:
- have had their identity stolen;
- rent out their property;
- own property in the UK but live overseas;
- leave their property empty;
- do not have a mortgage on their property;
- have registered their property with the Land Registry but have failed to notify the registry of any changes to their personal details.
If you fall into any of these categories, it is important that you act now to protect yourself.
What can I do?
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself and reduce the risk of fraud occurring, including:
- Ensuring that the details the Land Registry have about you are correct and kept up-to-date. It is particularly important that you tell them if your name or address for correspondence has changed so that if they write to you about an application that has been made concerning the property, the details of that application come to your attention.
- Signing up for the Land Registry’s free property alert service, which will tell you if someone tries to register themselves as the new owner of a property or secure a mortgage against it. You can put alerts in place for up to 10 properties, which makes it useful for those with a portfolio of buy-to-let or investment properties, and as you do not need to own the properties for which an alert is requested it is also useful for those worried about a relative who may be at risk.
- Putting a restriction on the property at the Land Registry to stop any sale or mortgage on it being registered, unless the transaction has been certified as authentic by a conveyancer or solicitor.
If you think you may have been the victim of property fraud you should contact the Land Registry’s property fraud line straightaway; contact details can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/protect-land-property-from-fraud. You should also contact your solicitor to see if there is anything you can do to stop the fraud, recover any money that has been lost or claim compensation.
For more information on property fraud and how to prevent it, please contact a member of the conveyancing team at Forrester Sylvester Mackett Solicitors LLP on 01249 444300.