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A few simple tricks can prevent your property being sold off under your nose

The Land Registry titles register has been a target for criminal gangs for some time and literally millions of pounds are at risk if your home or rental property is wholly owned and mortgage free.

According to official figures, something like 99pc of property owners have failed to signed up to vital safeguards at the Land Registry, a simple measure that is sure to protect you from this type of crime. There are numerous variations on this crime theme and these clever scams have multiplied recently and during the pandemic property boom.

It’s a free protection process

For those who take advantage of the Land Registry’s free alert service a notification will be sent to you by email and the post when any local authority searches are made. A search is a red flag that a conveyancer is preparing your property for sale.

Setting up the service on the Land Registry website is a task that takes just a few minutes, but unfortunately only a minority of people actually take the time to do this, either because they don’t know about it, or they just can’t be bothered.

The Land Registry says that just around one quarter million of Britain’s 29 million homes have been set up on the Land Registry’s anti-fraud “property alert service” which has been available free since 2014.

The Daily Telegraph reported the case of a Luton man who returned home from working away to find his house had been sold by scammer criminals and all his furniture had been removed from the house. When he arrive home after neighbours had called him he was greeted by the new “owner” of the house, the illusive scammers having syphoned off all the sale proceeds.

This is not an isolated incident. It’s been happening for years, with hundred of people being affected, and it’s been getting worse as time goes on. Last year The Land Registry was forced to pay compensation of £3.5m to owners of properties who fell victim to the scams, a figure which is over 60% up on the previous year.

Fortunately owners have state protection, a state guarantee through a special indemnity fund for financial crime that will usually compensate owners, but this nowhere near compensates for the stress and upheaval, let alone the consequential losses suffered.

Title fraud and registration fraud

Title fraud is where a criminal steals a property owner’s identity and changes the property title from the owner’s name to their own. They will do this through the Land Registry website, making an application without your knowledge by registering a forged transfer or mortgage. The criminals then apply for loans using the property as collateral.

During the Covid period people had been self-isolating in their own homes and many had a business property that was unoccupied. Business premises were not safe either from fraudsters who had been taking advantage of the pandemic to make more money in this way. Now the pandemic’s over, this does not remove the threat.

Even when you live in the property, this won’t stop fraudsters from perpetrating their clever tricks.

Those most at risk

Most at risk from these types of fraud are people who own their properties outright, without the encumbrance of a mortgage. Secondly, an empty or tenanted property is more at risk.

  • Those owners not registered with the LR alert service
  • absent owners, either abroad, in hospital, in care homes etc
  • landlords and those with tenanted properties
  • beneficiaries of owners who have died
  • long-time owners with more equity in their property
  • sole owners
  • properties at most risk are
  • high value properties
  • empty properties

The Land Registry says that combating these types of fraud is priority.

“Our specialist counter fraud teams focus on detection, prevention and education, working with professional conveyancers, such as solicitors, who are required to make checks to prevent fraud and money laundering. We are actively encouraging conveyancers to use digital cryptographic ID checking as a more secure means of identifying people,” a spokesperson has said.

What can you do to stay safe?

Us the Land Registry’s Property Alert service. Simply sign up on the website to receive email alerts from HM Land Registry by setting up a Property Alert account. The Land Registry says you can monitor the property of friends or family and any commercial property you own. If anyone applies to change the register for a property you are monitoring you (and if you so decide, someone else, like your solicitor) will be notified immediately.

Bear in mind, landlords are more at risk than the general population. Make sure HM Land Registry has your up-to-date details, correct name and address and email. Without this you might miss official letters or notices alerting you to a fraudulent application.

Title Guardian

Consider using a comprehensive property and identity monitoring service like Title Guardian. It is a 24/7 digital anti-fraud property and identity monitoring tool.

Title Guardian says:

“Today property could be listed for sale online with Rightmove or in the window of an estate agent without your knowledge. Your property could be listed for rent on marketplaces such as Facebook, Airbnb or Gumtree. A spouse or joint owner could be selling your property or applying for a mortgage that you have no knowledge of. Furthermore, a fraudster could be using your property address to register a fraudulent company on Companies House.

“You will only become aware to any of this when the fraudster has been successful, having disappeared with the money. Then, there is a knock at your door from the new owners, renters or debt collection agencies on behalf of a lender/s who have not had their bills paid.

” Today fraudsters can impersonate your identity to falsely put your property on the market for sale, rent, create bogus companies and apply to lenders to obtain loans in your name.”

Title Guardian will monitor your property and your identity 24/7 for suspicious activity. You will be alerted immediately if anyone is trying to commit property fraud on you, or is attempting to steal your identity. Stay totally safe with a service like Property Guardian.

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