What is property fraud?
Property fraud is essentially where someone steals your identity and sells or mortgages your property by pretending to be you. This could mean your property has been sold and you will be none the wiser until a sold sign appears outside your door!
One case from the Land Registry details how easy it is for a fraudster to go unnoticed. “Mr and Mrs Simpson (names have been changed) were joint owners of their house before their death. After they died, it took their family some time to sort out the sale of their property and other legal matters.
One day Mrs Young, Mr Simpson’s sister-in-law, was driving past the house when she saw a ‘sold’ sign outside it. When she stopped to have a closer look, she could see that the house had been emptied. Mrs Young contacted the estate agent who confirmed that contracts were close to exchange. However, the seller was unknown to Mrs Young or her solicitor.
Mrs Young called Land Registry’s property fraud line and action was taken straight away to prevent any ownership changes being made on the register before the Simpsons’ estate had been sorted out.”
It is extremely time consuming and stressful to get the mess resolved but there are ways to protect yourself.
How do I protect myself?
Make sure your property is registered on the Land Registry. (Your property will be registered if you bought it or mortgaged it since 1998.) If you aren’t registered and fall victim to fraud, you won’t be eligible for compensation so it’s important to check. Once you are registered, you can track changes to the register or put a restriction on your title to protect your assets. You can track changes by registering for property alerts which will be sent to you via email informing you if someone applies to change the register of your property. It’s important to check your personal details are correct so you are easily contactable for the Land Registry.
Another way to protect yourself is to put a restriction on your title so a fraudster can’t register a sale or mortgage on your property. The solicitor will have to seek verification that the application was actually made by you before progressing. Business owners can also put a restriction on their title to protect the company’s property.
Am I at risk?
It is quite rare to fall victim to property fraud but some are at more risk than others. You are more at risk if:
You rent out your property
You aren’t on the Land Registry
Your property doesn’t have a mortgage
You live abroad, in a care home or the property is empty
Here at Barwells we can help you take the first steps towards protecting your assets. For existing and new clients we are happy to register a restriction for free with the land registry which will make your property less likely to be victim of a fraudulent sale or mortgage.
Call us today on 01323 899331 to set up an appointment with one of our expert solicitors who will be happy to advise you.