How to Protect Yourself from Property Fraud

19 September 2016

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Few people know that there are fraudsters targeting property. Your property is usually the most expensive thing you own, and it holds value if it is sold. You wouldn’t think that a fraudster could just sell your property without your consent, but it can happen. 

They can try to get ownership of your property by assuming your identity and selling or mortgaging your property without your knowledge. Since 2009 the Land Registry has stopped over £74 million in fraudulent property transactions.

Here are some simple ways to protect against property fraud:

Be Aware of Property Fraud Risks__ __

Your property may be at a higher risk if:

  • You’ve been a victim of identity theft
  • Your property is rented out
  • You’re not resident in the UK
  • Your property is not occupied
  • You don’t have a mortgage on your property
  • Your property isn’t registered with the Land Registry.
  • If any of these additional risk factors apply to you, you should take steps to protect your property as soon as possible.

How to Protect Against Property Fraud 

You can protect yourself from property fraud in a number of different ways. 

  1. Check your property is registered with Land Registry – The Land Registry believe that 30% of all property and land in the UK is not registered. This can cause problems when trying to prove who legally owns it. Any property purchased in England and Wales will be registered by your Conveyancer when the sale is completed. But there are times where you may have a property that is not registered. Any property purchased or mortgaged before 1998 may not be registered. Likewise, if you inherit a property or you are gifted it, you will need to update your details. There is a small fee to obtain the Title Register and Title Plan. If it is not registered, there is a cost involved that depends on the price of your property. The Land Registry will offer a reduction for anyone who voluntarily registers their property. 
  2. Check your details are up to date – Even though your property may be registered, if your contact details are out of date, then no one can contact you. The Land Registry allows three addresses to be registered against your property. This can include a postal address, email address and even an address abroad. Having up to date contact details means they can contact you with any queries or activity on that property. 
  3. Register for the Property Alert Service – This free service from the Land Registry is designed to help people with registered properties to receive alerts when any action takes place on those properties. This allows you to be fully informed at all times and you can take immediate action. You can sign up for these alerts at the Land Registry Property Alert Service
  4. Apply for a Restriction on your property - If you think you may be at risk it is worthwhile registering a restriction on the property. This prevents any transfer of property or mortgage from going ahead without the Conveyancer or Solicitor confirming they are happy that the person selling or mortgaging the property is the true owner.  
  5. Speak to the Land Registry – The Land Registry recognise the seriousness of property fraud and the impact on the innocent people. As a result, they have set up a property fraud line, call 0300 006 7030 during office hours Monday to Friday. You could also contact Action Fraud, which is the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. 

Your Conveyancer owes you a duty of care and is responsible for protecting your interests as much as they possibly can. Unfortunately, there have been recent cases in the media identifying when law firms have been targeted by fraudsters. Emails have been intercepted between the Solicitor and the client by fraudsters. Fraudsters have changed the Conveyancer’s bank details on the intercepted email, unknowingly clients have transferred their deposit funds or purchase money to the fraudster accounts.

In a recent case of Purrunsing v A’Court & Co (a firm) & Anor, the buyer of a property lost £470,000 when a fraudster pretended to be the registered owner of the property. The buyer lost his life savings. When instructing a Conveyancer you should and ask the following questions:

  • If you are expecting money back on a sale, you should check and confirm your bank details with your Conveyancer or Solicitor and confirm that they will not change.
  • Ask for confirmation of the Conveyancer’s bank details and request for them to be sent by post rather than email.
  • Ask if their bank details are likely to change soon?
  • Ask if they use any online products to check whether account details of the other Conveyancer are valid. Some of the most common are Lawyerchecker or Safemove.
  • Ask how to make sure that you are only speaking with your Conveyancer. Some fraudsters pose as Solicitors or Conveyancers to get the details they require.
  • Check that the law firm or Conveyancing firm you are using actually exists. Ask them who their regulator is. The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates law firms and the Council of Licenced Conveyancers regulates licenced conveyancers. 

You can see there are a number of ways you can protect yourself from property fraud. Thankfully the number of incidences are small, but this doesn’t mean you should leave yourself exposed to the risks. These small steps can protect you losing your most valuable possession.

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