10 Essential Ways To Protect Your House From Property Fraud
In 2012 the Land Registry paid out £5 million in compensation to people affected by property fraud.
We couldn’t find, despite an extensive search, more up to date figures from the Land Registry.
We think for obvious reasons: Property fraud is on the increase.
Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
This used to apply to title deeds to houses.
You (or your Conveyancing Solicitors or Mortgage Company) had possession of the title deeds to your house or flat.
The Land Registry is the Government Department responsible for the registration of properties in England and Wales.
The Land Registry, when a property changed hands, issued a new Land Certificate where there was no mortgage or a Charge Certificate where the property was subject to a mortgage.
Simple (like most good ideas) secure and very private.
That was until 2003.
Then, the Land Registry went paperless.
How Can Your Property Be Vulnerable to Land Registry Fraud?
Your property can be at risk if it is;
- Mortgage free – the fraudsters steal the home owner’s identity and create a new mortgage on the property.
- Vacant property – the property has been left empty, the owner lives abroad, is infirm or in a care home. The fraudsters can again try and steal the home owner’s identity and sell or create a new mortgage
- Tenanted property – tenants masquerade as the home owner and attempt to forge documents in their name.
How Conveyancing Solicitors Have Been Duped By Property Fraud
This fraud is relatively new.
The fraudsters pose as law firms – either by setting up an entirely bogus firm or a bogus branch of an established firm – to acquire the sale proceeds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has so far in 2014 issued 109 ( we received another one today) bogus law firm alerts.
The fraudsters pose as both a seller and their firm of solicitors. Once the purchase monies ( which can include mortgage funds) are released to the “seller’s solicitors” on completion day the bogus law firm disappears with the money.
The Land Registry has started up a fraud hotline (see below) to try to avoid this happening.
Online fraud is increasing and you as an owner have to be vigilant in order to protect your property.
10 Essential Ways to Avoid Being the Victim of Property and Land Registry Fraud
- Make sure your property is registered and if not, ask your conveyancing solicitor to register it for you. (The benefit is that if you are the innocent victim of fraud the Land Registry will compensate you.)
- Most importantly keep your contact details up to date. You can now have more than one address placed on your property register, so why not put down your Conveyancing Solicitors address as well for extra piece of mind? (you can find out how to do that here).
- Sign up for property alerts with the Land Registry. These will inform you if someone applies to change the register of your property.
- Get in touch with the Land Registry and request a restriction on the property, so that no one can register a purchase without your (or your conveyancing solicitors) written consent.
- Research your chosen law firm. Make sure the branch you are using is a legitimate branch of the firm. Call another branch to ask if you are unsure.
- See if a relative or friend can recommend a law firm – if someone else has used them had not had any issues chances are they are reputable!
- Check out the ‘Find a Solicitor’ tool on the Solicitors Regulation Authority website.
- Make sure the law firm has the Conveyancing Quality Scheme accreditation. This is designed to make sure all conveyancing firms are meeting consistent standards of practice. (Read more about that here.)
- Consider Identity Fraud Protection from a credit agency such as Experian. Experian will alert you if someone has accessed or is attempting to change your credit status.
- If you suspect a property fraud, ring the Land Registry fraud hotline on 0300 006 7030 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm)
All is Not Lost
Fraud is unfortunately a fact of life.
Property and Land Registry Fraud are just the latest variations.
By taking a few sensible precautions and staying vigilant you have a great chance of avoiding those pesky and cowardly fraudsters who are after your property!
And, if you would like us to, we can help.