Property fraud in the UK is on the increase and in particular, in relation to buy to let properties.
There are cases where properties are being sold by tenants of a property rather than the registered owners.
There are also cases where fraudsters are claiming to be the registered owners of a property and asking prospective tenants for up-front deposits/rent in advance. In this scenario, fraudsters are claiming that the money will be protected by the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. The fraudsters will then send a bogus email claiming to be from the Tenancy Deposit Scheme to confirm receipt of the monies paid leaving tenants unaware that they have sent money to a fraudster.
These scenarios can leave tenants or buyers paying out significant sums of money. They are then not only left out of pocket but also end up with no home to move into.
It may sound like common sense but you should never part with any monies unless you are sure that the monies are being sent to the correct person/company.
With the increased risk of property fraud, it is common practice for most law firms/conveyancers to not only confirm the identity of the seller/buyer they are acting for but also to require confirmation from the solicitors acting for the other party that they have correctly identified their client.
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.
You can check 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 the buy to let property address.
Properties that are left empty 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.
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.
It is advisable, if you are a landlord, to have these alerts set up for tenanted properties.
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. Aternatively, 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.