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Property Fraud and How to Avoid it


Unfortunately we have all heard about identity theft but a new worrying trend is that of property fraud. It was reported before Christmas that the veteran war reporter Max Hastings and his wife had been the victims of a fraud scam where the West London property that Mrs Hastings owned and rented out had been sold for £1.3 million but the buyer was actually conned out of the cash by a fake vendor in a fraud scam. Thankfully, Mrs Hastings legal title to the house was not disputed as Land Registry, which is responsible for holding records of property or land, spotted the suspicious circumstances and declined to register the sale. The real victim was therefore the supposed buyer who had paid over £1.3 million pounds to the alleged seller who was never seen again.

Nowadays the sale and purchase of houses and land takes place electronically without anybody needing to produce physical paper deeds. If a property is registered you can apply electronically for a copy of the register entries which gives title information about a property, the address, the owner of the property, what rights are granted to the property owner, what rights are reserved over the property in favour of third parties, what covenants must be complied with by the property owner and whether the property has a mortgage registered against it.

You can take steps to protect your property from being fraudulently sold or mortgaged. You are certainly more at risk if one or more of the following applies:

• Your identity has been stolen.
• You rent out your property.
• You live overseas.
• The property is empty.
• The property is not mortgaged.
• The property is not registered at Land Registry, certain property is still unregistered i.e. it has not changed hands or been mortgaged recently.

You can track changes to the register or put a restriction on your registered title if you think you are at risk. You can sign up to Property Alert at the Land Registry, all you need is a valid email address or postal address if you are not online and the address or title number of the property or properties that you want to monitor. You can monitor up to 10 registered properties in England and Wales. You do not have to own the property and the same property can be monitored by different people. Land Registry will send you an email alert each time there is significant activity that may result in a change to the register of the property you are monitoring, for example, if a new mortgage is taken out against the property. If you receive an alert about activity that you were not expecting then you should contact Land Registry immediately.

You can put a restriction on the title so you can stop Land Registry registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you. If you do not live at the property you can fill in a request for a restriction for owners not living at the property. You should also ensure that your address for service is correct on the register. There are simple steps that you can take that will prevent you being the victim of property fraud. If you have concerns why not instruct us to do a Property Fraud Prevention Health Check. Please contact us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Property team.

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