Property Fraud is a criminal offence which like many things, you believe will never happen to you. However, according to the office of national statistics, property fraud has made up the largest component of property offences recorded by the police. In March 2016 alone, it accounted for 21% of total property crime, for comparison in the year ending March 2003 it accounted for just 4% of property offences. Property fraud is therefore, rapidly increasing creating hundreds of new victims every day.
Property fraud is exactly what is says on the tin, it is where fraudsters attempt to steal your property without your knowledge. It is most notoriously done through someone pretending to be you and trying to sell or mortgage your property.
But the big question is how? How can people pretend to be you, without being noticed? These are the typical scenarios: firstly, where you have a tenant occupying your property or land and he or she clones your identity in order to sell or mortgage it. Secondly, where property is left empty or where it is rented out mortgage free and someone claims title to it, or finally, where there is a family or partnership dispute and one of the parties decides to deal with the property without consulting the other co-owner.
It is very important where you have a registered title that you notify the land registry of any change of your address. This should make it more difficult to steal your identity and also enable the land registry to contact you in the event of a suspicious registration. It is vital for the Land Registry to be able to contact you quickly if someone makes a claim against your land as you have a short time to oppose such an application. Failure to do this could lead to the claim succeeding and you losing your property. The land registry can hold up to three contact addresses, including an email address, and an address abroad.
What can you do to lower the risks of property fraud happening to you? Land Registry have set up a monitoring service called “property alert” which is free of charge and available to anyone with a registered title. There is no need to own the property to set up an alert which could be useful for example if an elderly relative moves into a nursing home leaving their home empty. An alert can be set up for up to 10 registered titles, where Land Registry will send you an alert when there is a significant activity on the title of the property being monitored.
What will the alert tell you? The alert will inform you of the type of activity affecting the property for example an application to change the register, the details of the applicant and the date. If this is something you are unaware of then the alert will give you an opportunity to contact the Land Registry and suspend the application, pending investigation.
Fraudsters know your weaknesses, such as when electronically transferring monies for example for the purchase of a property. There have been several instances where fraudsters have intercepted emails between solicitors and their clients and sent requests for funds which look entirely credible but are in fact bogus and lead to you transferring monies to a fraudsters account. So always put time aside to check with your solicitor by telephone such a request for monies is genuine and ask for him or her to confirm the correct bank details for the firm.
Details of the land registry’s monitoring service can be found on the land registry website at: http://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk.
For further information please contact Frank Smith on 01242 801748