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Would you know if a fraudster tried to sell your house?

View profile for Amanda Payne
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Owning your own home is usually the most valuable asset people have. A property can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and is becoming an attractive target for fraudsters.

The type of frauds that have been seen in the conveyancing industry recently are the ones where fraudsters first steal the home owners identity, then sell or mortgage the property by pretending to be the homeowner.

Handcuffs focusing on property fraudIf it isn’t discovered quickly, the true property owner may find their property has been sold or mortgaged without their knowledge. Sorting out the mess is likely to be distressing. Getting any mortgage taken off the property title registers can be time-consuming and of course costly.

Who is most at risk from property fraud?

You are more at risk if:

  • you are a Landlord and the property is rented out;
  • the property is empty for reasons such as the owner has moved into a home or lives abroad;
  • there is no mortgage on the property;
  • the property is not registered with the Land Registry.

How can you stay protected from property fraud?

Thankfully this type of property fraud is quite rare and prevention is much better than a cure. There is more than one option available to try to protect yourself from property fraud:

  • Ensure that the property is registered at HM Land Registry. If you are unfortunate and become a victim of property fraud where you suffer a financial loss, you may be compensated.   It is easy to check if a property is registered or not, but if you are unsure ask us to help.  If it’s not registered, it is recommended to go through the voluntarily registration process. This in itself has many more advantages and for which the Land Registry offer a reduction on the registration fee.
  • Once registered, you as the homeowner has to make sure that your address for service details lodged with HM Land Registry is up to date. The Land Registry accept email addresses too. If your postal and/or email address details are not up to date, you would not receive any correspondence the Land Registry may send out to you.
  • Sign up for HM Land Registry’s new free Property Alert Service.  This helps home owners guard against property fraud.  Once signed up, the Land Registry would send you an email alert when there is certain activity on the monitored property e.g. if someone tries to take out a mortgage on it.  If you receive an alert and the activity is suspicious, you should seek immediate advice.
  • Owners who feel their property could be at risk can have a Restriction entered on the property title registers.   This is an entry to stop activity on your property, such as a transfer or a mortgage, unless a Conveyancer or solicitor confirms the application was made by you.  The Land Registry do not make a charge for this Restriction provided you do not live in the property you wish to protect. 

What can your Solicitor do to help protect you from property fraud?

All law firms are covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Regulations. These include carrying out ‘customer due diligence’ measures to check that all clients are who they say they are.

Fraudsters will go to great lengths, including creating bogus law firms. Conveyancers should take appropriate steps to check the details of the firm and conveyancer on the other-side of the transaction to ensure they are genuine, and not part of any fraud.

Firms should have general procedures and practices in place to help prevent property fraud. These should include obtaining only original or certified copies of documents. Any discrepancies should be checked and suspicious behaviours investigated. All bank details should be checked and verified before any monies are transferred.

Fishers Dewes is committed to protecting our clients from fraud. Our team of Residential Property experts are trained in recognising and dealing with potential property fraud. For further information or a free conveyancing quotation, call 01530 412167.

Amanda Payne is a Director and Head of Residential Property at Fishers Dewes Solicitors. Amanda has extensive experience across a broad spectrum of property, land and complex title transactions.