March 2012 – Property Title Fraud Scam
A case this week reminds of the importance of protecting your property investments from a fraud scam which has become prevalent in recent years – property title theft.
Jailing Grandmother Surjeet Chana, 64, for nearly 4 years for involvement in a £3.8 million scam, Judge Michael Grieve commented on the impact on the victims of the loss of their properties: “It takes little imagination to realise the shock and trauma that this experience would bring.”
The Land Registry, the government department responsible for recording land ownership and property transactions in England and Wales, has paid out well over £26m since 2006 in compensation to victims of a recurring property fraud. This con involves property title theft with criminals taking out mortgages on properties they do not own, pocketing the money and leaving the real owner thousands of pounds in debt.
Fraudsters target properties where there is no mortgage or the owner lives elsewhere, so landlords are particularly vulnerable, especially if they ever lived in the property themselves. Fraudsters may attempt to acquire ownership of a property either by using a forged document to transfer it into their own name, or by impersonating the registered owner.
There is an increased risk of fraud when: – a property is empty or has been bought to let – an owner is spending time abroad or is absent – the owner is infirm or in a nursing or care home – a relationship breaks down – a property has no mortgage.
Is your property registered? About 20% of land in England and Wales remains unregistered. If it is not and you become an innocent victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss, you will not be compensated. Are your contact details up to date? If your property is registered, you should make sure the contact details at the Land Registry are up to date. You can provide the Land Registry with three different addresses, including an email address and an address abroad.
Form RQ provides additional security for owners not living at the registered property. Under this measure you or your conveyancer can make a request using LR form RQ, asking the registrar to enter a restriction, free of charge. See the Land Registry website.