Property Fraud in the news once again
Property fraud hit the headlines last week with a case in which a vicar returned to his house in Luton only to find that it had been sold to new owners in his absence.
The Rev Mike Hall returned to his £131,000 terraced property in Luton, Bedfordshire, on August 20 after neighbours contacted him, saying that someone was inside his home and had turned the lights on. When he arrived, he found that builders were stripping the fittings and was informed by a ‘new owner’ that his name was no longer on the deeds to the property.
Investigations by the BBC ‘You and Yours’ programme suggest that the ‘seller’ had stolen Mr Hall’s identity, using a false driving license as ID and setting up a bank account under the false identity to receive the proceeds of the sale.
Police initially said that they did not believe a criminal offence had been committed as the buyer is now listed with the Land Registry as the official owner of the property, but has since changed tack and is now investigating the matter with the solicitors involved in the transaction.
With everyone using the internet and social media more and more, stealing personal information online is becoming an increasing concern for everyone. To protect yourself from identity theft you should take care about the information available regarding you and your property online.
With regards to property, it is advisable to check that your details on the Land Registry are up to date and correct for any properties you own. If you are a landlord you should ensure that the Land Registry has your up to date address on their records so that any correspondence is sent to you as well as any buy to let property addresses.
Properties that are left empty or are rented can also be a risk as it is much easier for a fraudster to pretend that a property is theirs if there is nobody else living in it or if they are living in it as a tenant.
The Land Registry does have a free Property Alert Service which you can sign up to. Whenever searches or applications are made against the property, you are then notified. This means that you can be made aware as soon as something suspicious may be taking place.
The Land Registry will also allow you to place a restriction on the title for your property, meaning that nobody can register a sale or mortgage on your property without a signed certification from you or your solicitor or conveyancer. Many landlords are now asking their solicitors/conveyancers to arrange this. It is very easy to take the view that “this will not happen to me”, but these simple steps may help prevent fraudsters from renting or selling your property or from obtaining monies from you if you are a tenant/purchaser.
You can find out more about the Property Alert Service here. Alternatively, if you have any concerns about your property or property fraud in general, contact us.
Nicola Cawthorne is a property executive in the property team at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.