As safe as houses – preventing property fraud
Property is usually the most valuable asset people own, it can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and can therefore be an attractive target for Property fraud.
At HM Land Registry (HMLR) we provide advice as to how people in England and Wales can protect their property from fraud. Since 2009 we have ensured the integrity of the Land Register by preventing 275 fraudulent registrations with a combined property value of £132.4m.
Property fraud case study
An owner of a house in London called our ‘property fraud line’ after becoming suspicious that someone had fraudulently sold the property which she owned and let out. It turned out the tenant was part of a fraud ring – once he’d rented her house using a false identity, he and an accomplice put the house on the market. The accomplice was a lady who had changed her name to the same as the owners by deed poll and then secured a passport in that name. HMLR did not register the sale as we suspected fraud which meant that the owner still maintained legal ownership of the property. Unfortunately, the unwitting buyer had already paid £1.35m for the property.
The type of frauds Land Registry see are where fraudsters steal someone’s identity and then attempt to sell or mortgage their property by pretending to be the owner. If it isn’t discovered promptly, the true property owner might find your property has been transferred or sold without their knowledge. Fixing the mess can be distressing, time-consuming and costly.
Thankfully property fraud is quite rare, but for the unlucky victims, it can have devastating effects. Prevention is therefore better than cure.
Your property might be more at risk if it:
• is empty
• is rented out
• is mortgage-free
• isn’t registered with HMLR
Firstly, ensure your property is registered. If you become an innocent victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss, you may be compensated. If your property isn’t registered then no compensation is payable. Find out about registering land.
Make sure your contact details are up-to-date so we can reach you easily. You can have up to three addresses on the register including an email address or an address abroad. If your details are not up to date, you may not receive our letters or emails if we need to contact you.
Sign up for HMLR’s free Property Alert service. We send email alerts when there is certain activity on a monitored property e.g. if someone tries to register a mortgage. You can monitor up to 10 properties and you do not have to be the registered proprietor, you could monitor your parents or grandparents house for example. If you receive an unexpected alert, you can decide whether to seek further advice. See our YouTube guide to setting up Property Alert.
If you feel you might be at risk you can request a restriction on your property. A restriction is intended to stop activity on the property, such as a transfer or a mortgage, unless a conveyancer or solicitor confirms the application was made by you. There is no fee to home owners who do not live at the property they wish to protect. Request a restriction.
If you are a company wanting protection you can make a request to enter a restriction on up to three properties, free of charge, on form RQ(Co). A solicitor must certify that they are satisfied the company transferring, leasing or mortgaging the property is the same company as the owner before any new sale, lease or mortgage is registered. They must also certify that they have taken reasonable steps to establish that anyone who executed the deed on behalf of the company held the stated office at the time of execution.