Property Frauds: Could your home be stolen?
Property fraud is where a fraudster tries to steal your home (etc). The risk is higher for landlords, especially if it is their own home they are letting out. But there are steps you can take to reduce the risk in England and Wales. They won’t be news to subscribers to our Peace of Mind Service. (If you need advice on selling a property, go here.)
Property frauds are most commonly carried out by someone pretending to be you and selling or mortgaging your property and leaving you to pick up the pieces.
The Land Registry know of a landlord who happened to be driving past one of his properties and saw a for sale sign outside. As he hadn’t put his property up for sale, he was understandably alarmed! He contacted the estate agent and found out that the tenant had pretended to be the owner and put the property on the market.
Although the likelihood of property fraud happening to you is fairly low, the impact can be huge – imagine finding out that someone else has sold your home and you knew nothing about it!
Some owners are more vulnerable to property fraud than others. There’s more risk when it is:
empty – such as if the owner is abroad or in a care home.
rented out – for example where the owner lives elsewhere, the tenant might try to mortgage or sell the house without the owner’s knowledge.
mortgage free – there are currently millions of properties without a mortgage in England & Wales.
where there are family disputes – for example when a couple divorce or separate.
The first thing to do is to make sure your home is registered with the Land Registry.
One advantage of registration is that if you’re an innocent victim of fraud and suffer financial loss, you may be eligible for compensation from the Land Registry.
Use the Land Registry Property Alert service: it’s a free service where you can monitor up to 10 registered properties. They will alert you of any significant activity such as a new mortgage or change of ownership.
You can then judge whether or not the activity is suspicious and seek further advice.
But the alert service is only effective if you keep your contact details up-to-date. You can provide the Land Registry with up to three contact addresses including an e-mail address or an address abroad. It would probably be prudent to include at least one child in that if you are getting on a bit (like the author!)
If suspicious activity occurs, you can contact the local Citizens Advice Bureau or Action Fraud and you should seek professional advice such as from a solicitor or your lender if you have a mortgage.
You can contact the Land Registry property fraud line on 0300 006 7030 Monday to Friday
• read the Land Registries fraud advice: www.gov.uk/propertyfraud;
• sign up to the Land Registries free Alert service: www.gov.uk/property-alert.
Fortunately, property frauds in the UK are relatively rare, but one successful fraud may breed 1000 more attempts, so it is best to put sound precautions in place.