Your property is probably one of the most valuable things you will ever own. But did you know fraudsters can try to steal it from under you even while you are living in it? While all homeowners and properties are at risk, some are more vulnerable than others. Owners who are absent (e.g. extended holiday, living abroad, in a care home or hospital), landlords, deceased, long-standing, sole along with properties which are not registered at HM Land Registry, not mortgaged, rent out, high value & empty.
If you already own a property, or are thinking of buying one, it is important to be aware of these fraud risks. Simple precautions can protect you.
What is Property Fraud?
This is when a fraudster changes the registered details of your property to create the appearance that they own your house or land. To do this they will often pretend to be you or someone else normally involved in a property purchase or sale - perhaps a potential buyer or seller.
If your home is one of the millions or so properties not yet registered with HM Land Registry your risk is greater. A Fraudster could forge some paper deeds, use them to register your property in their name, apply for a mortgage or make a sale to an unwitting buyer - and then disappear with the cash.
If you own an unregistered property, think seriously about voluntarily registering it with HM Land Registry. This gives you valuable legal protection when it comes to property title fraud.
Registered properties are also not risk free. The pattern is the same: the fraudster impersonates the true owner and tries to transfer the registration of the property into their own name in order to sell it or acquire a mortgage. After a fraudulent transaction of this kind the true owner's registration can normally be restored. But the stress and inconvenience is far better avoided by staying vigilant.
Three simple steps can protect you and your property
1. Register your property with HM Land Registry
If your property is not already registered with HM Land Registry, you should consider applying for voluntary registration. This is an easy and effective way to protect yourself and your home. It creates an official record that can be checked by anyone who needs to confirm your ownership (e.g. a Solicitor or Estate Agent).
Registration also makes your title more secure and provides extra legal protection. For example, if you do suffer a loss from this kind of fraud you might be entitled to compensation from HM Land Registry (depending on the circumstances).
2. Keep your registered details up-to-date
Make sure that HM Land Registry always has your correct details including your name and address. They may need to send you official letters or notices which can act as an early sign of fraud.
3. Keep a close eye on your register entries
This is easier than you might think. Simply sign up to HM Land Registry's free property service alert. If someone tries to change the register for your property (perhaps as part of a fraudulent mortgage application), you will be notified immediately.
You can use the service to monitor up to 10 properties. Changes to the register won't be blocked automatically, but you will be told about them so that you can take swift action.
Properties rented out can be particularly vulnerable to Fraud. Fraudsters often gain physical control simply by posing as tenants. Paying their rent months in advance (a common warning sign) buys them the time they need to complete a sale or mortgage application and to flee with the proceeds. All before anyone suspects anything.
If you think you're a victim of property title fraud, report it immediately to:
HM Land Registry
0300 006 7030
If HM Land Registry alerts you to unusual activity relating to your property registration, contact them immediately. It could be a warning sign of fraud.
Burningham & Brown is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - SRA Number: 00044479