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House theft

No, not burglary – actually stealing a house! Property fraud is reality, but there are early-warning alarms available.

PROPERTYdrum

property_fraud Six months on from the launch of Land Registry’s Property Alert service, more than 12,000 people have signed up to the free service which provides an early warning of suspicious activity on someone’s property.

Alasdair Lewis, Director of Legal Services, said, “We introduced Property Alert to help people to protect their most valuable asset – their home. We’re glad that Property Alert has proved so popular. However, there are still many homeowners who are unaware of the risk of property fraud and how to protect themselves so we are asking people to share our advice and video with their friends and family to spread the word.”

Two fraudsters sold an empty house they didn’t own, netting £50k.”

CASE NOTE

One example of where Property Alert could have raised the alarm earlier is this:

Mr Q rented out his property using letting agents while he lived overseas. His letting agents were approached by someone claiming to have bought the property. This was a surprise to them, so they contacted Mr Q.

Mr Q then contacted the Land Registry (LR) property fraud line. Upon investigation, it was found that an application to transfer Mr Q’s property into the name of a buyer had been received. A staff member also spotted discrepancies between Mr Q’s signature and previously scanned documents. LR sent a letter to the buyer’s solicitor requesting confirmation of the steps taken to verify Mr Q’s identity. Mr Q’s solicitor also contacted to confirm that he had known the family for 20 years and that Mr Q had not sold his property. He referred the matter to the police.

As Land Registry had not received sufficient evidence from the buyer’s solicitor in respect of the signature verification for Mr Q, it cancelled the transfer application and the sale wasn’t registered.

If Mr Q had signed up for Property Alert he would have received an email alert when Land Registry had first received notification that a transfer of ownership would be arriving. He could then have looked into the matter sooner.

WHAT IS PROPERTY FRAUD?

Property fraud can happen in many ways. Fraudsters may steal someone’s identity and attempt to acquire ownership of a property by using forged documents. The fraudsters may then raise money by mortgaging the property without the owner’s knowledge before disappearing with the money, leaving the owner to deal with the consequences.

Land Registry has stopped property fraud of more than £66 million in the last five years. In one, two fraudsters pocketed £50k by selling an empty home they didn’t own. Land Registry staff spotted the fraud before it was registered but the fraudsters got away with the money and are still wanted by police (http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/police-huntfraudsters-who-pocketed-7535091)

HOW PROPERTY ALERT WORKS

• You will need to set up an online account with Land Registry which is free – https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/

• You’ll be able to monitor up to ten properties. Email alerts will be sent when Land Registry receives an application to change the register as well as for official searches (which can be sent to us up to 30 working days before the application is sent and ‘freeze’ the register until the application is received). You can then judge whether or not the activity is suspicious and if you should seek further advice. For example, if you receive an alert that a bank has lodged a search on your property but you haven’t applied for a mortgage, you may want to seek legal advice, contact Action Fraud, or contact the bank in question to tell them you are the owner and have not applied for a mortgage. Investigations into the authenticity of the mortgage application can then begin much earlier in the process.

PROPERTIES AT RISK

Properties most likely to be at risk from property fraud:

• Tenanted properties – for example where the landlord lives elsewhere, a tenant might try to mortgage or sell the property without the landlord’s knowledge

• Empty properties – such as where the owner lives abroad or is in a care home

• Where there are family disputes. For example, in a relationship break-down someone could try and mortgage a property without their partner knowing

• Properties without a mortgage.

Other measures to help protect yourself against property fraud:

• Make sure your property is registered. If you become an innocent victim of fraud and suffer financial loss as a consequence, you may be compensated

• Once registered, ensure Land Registry has up-to-date contact details so we can reach you easily. You can have up to three addresses in the register including an email address and/or an address abroad. The more information you provide, the more chance we have of reaching you if they need to

• Owners can make a request to have a restriction entered on their property. This is designed to help prevent forgery by requiring a solicitor or conveyancer to certify they are satisfied that the person selling or mortgaging the property is the true owner.

More property fraud advice is available from
www.gov.uk/propertyfraud

January 21, 2015

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