WAYS TO COMBAT PROPERTY FRAUD
Many people have become disillusioned with traditional pension plans based on stock market investment returns, and have focused on 'buy-to-let' properties instead. The recent turmoil in financial markets has also seen investors turn to property for a safer return on their money.
However, the propensity for property to be sold and mortgaged to raise large sums of money has made it an attractive target for fraudsters, and sadly, mortgage and property fraud is on the increase. In fact, it is estimated that over 18 million UK households could be failing to protect themselves from identity fraud.
Properties most vulnerable to fraud are those which are empty, tenanted or mortgage free. If you are away from your home for long periods of time, or are currently in a care home or the property is let, then your property may be at risk.
Fraudsters target properties where the owners are not readily available. They ‘steal’ property by impersonating the true owner and either mortgaging or selling the property and disappearing with the proceeds.
The key points to help prevent property fraud are to:
• make sure that you have registered the property’s title at the Land Registry, and that your contact details are correct and up-to-date so they can contact you if they need to send a formal notice or advise you of changes to the register. Each person can provide them with up to three addresses. In addition to a UK postal address, you can provide them with an email address and, if relevant, an overseas postal address. If you would like a member of our residential property team to do this for you, please let us know.
• use the Land Registry’s free property alert service specifically created to help owners of registered properties detect property fraud. Through this alert service, the Land Registry will email you each time there is significant activity that may result in a change to the register of a property you are monitoring. To register, you need a valid email address (or postal address if you are not online) as well as the address or title number of the property that you want to monitor (you can create alerts for up to 10 registered properties in England and Wales).
• make use of the new form of restriction introduced by the Land Registry. This is noted on the title register for the protection of absent owners. It is designed to help prevent forgery by requiring a conveyancer or solicitor to certify that they are satisfied that the person transferring or mortgaging the property is the same person as the true owner. As standard practice, Willans applies for this restriction every time one of our clients uses our services to purchase a buy-to-let property. If you have a buy-to-let property and are not sure if the restriction has been entered you can check with the Land Registry. Please let us know if you would like a member of our residential property team to do this for you, and if necessary, to register a restriction.
However, if you think you have been a victim of property fraud you should seek advice immediately by either contacting a conveyancer or the Land Registry.
Yasmine Machin is an experienced licensed conveyancer in Willans LLP’s residential property team. She handles a variety of residential property matters, including freehold and leasehold sales and purchases, unregistered titles, re-mortgages and transfers of equity. She also has experience in acting for developers on their plot sales and has dealt with a fair number of lease extensions. Yasmine spent 12 years working at the Land Registry where she progressed to a senior level before spending a couple of years at a conveyancing firm. A College of Law Birmingham graduate, she also holds a diploma in land law.