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How do I safeguard my property from fraud?

The ability to access all information in relation to any property in today’s times is increasingly convenient and accessible via the Land Registry. This has however opened a can of worms – property fraud.

Any owner of a property must be aware of this and the safeguards that can be put in place to protect the property.

With the developments over the years, anyone can obtain a copy of the title (all information) to a property. Prior to December 1990, if a property or home was registered with the Land Registry, this was not open to public viewing. Any registered land details were private and were only viewed by the owners or those people who had permission from the owners.

As times moved on and in order to allow developers and other parties the opportunity to identify who owned the land more easily, the registered title was opened up to the public. Any member of the public can now research and find out exactly where the land is registered, who owns the land and along with that, can obtain copy documents and details of anything the owner can or can not do whilst he/she owns the land, together with details of any mortgages owing.

These quick and accessible ways of checking property details has opened up another avenue for possible fraudsters.

How easy is fraud to take place?

A fraudster can and would need to steal the identity of the owner, essentially presenting as the owner. This is where it is important for a solicitor or estate agent to carry out identity checks upon any potential seller.

The fraudster would then try and act as the seller and take steps to sell the property or obtain a mortgage on it – or both, which is a property owner’s worst nightmare!

You are more at risk if:

  • 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 with the Land Registry (Your property will be registered if you bought it or mortgaged it since 1998).

What can be done to prevent fraud?

A property owner can reduce the risk of their property being fraudulently sold or mortgaged in the following ways:-

  • The Land Registry can place a restriction on a title so that no changes can be made to it without a solicitor or conveyancer confirming that this is made by the owner of the property. There is a fee for this of £40 if you live at the property. If you do not – there is no fee. More information on this can be found here.
  • An owner of a property can sign up to the Property Alert Service. If someone tries to change the register then they will be alerted by email. It does not stop the changes although would alert the owner of the activity. You can find out more information here.

Any steps that an owner can make to reduce the risk of fraud is beneficial – it is always better to be safe than sorry!

Nicole Chrisham - solicitor - Residential Property