Property fraud might sound like a far-fetched idea – a house being ‘stolen’ from underneath the nose of the legitimate owner and sold – but it is a very real and growing problem.
The case of Reverend Mike Hall hit the headlines when it was revealed that he returned home after a spell working away to discover that his house had been sold and complete strangers were living in it.
The police initially told Rev Hall that property fraud was a civil matter and they were unable to help, leaving him struggling to find a solution, although Bedfordshire Police’s fraud squad have since launched an investigation.
How does property fraud work?
In cases of property fraud, the fraudster impersonates the homeowner by using false or stolen ID. This could be in the form of a driving licence plus a copy of a household bill.
Criminals often target sole owners of unmortgaged properties, absent owners or landlords, owners who are in hospital or a care home, have died or live overseas.
Once the fraudster has your ID, they can change the property title from your name to theirs, paving the way for them to sell or mortgage your property.
How to protect your land and property from fraud
The simplest thing to do to protect your property from fraud is to track changes made to the register by setting up HM Land Registry alerts to monitor activity on your property.
This will ensure that if someone applies to change the register, for example to use your property for a mortgage, you will be notified. It doesn’t block any changes, but it does enable you to take immediate action.
This is free of charge and very simple to set up. You first need to register for an account, then add up to 10 properties that you would like to monitor.
The second thing that you can do if you believe you are at risk of property fraud is to put a restriction on your title to stop HM Land Registry registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you.
Whether you are buying property, selling, remortgaging or need advice on any residential property matter, please don’t hesitate to contact our team of experienced property solicitors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 01782 205000.