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‘Protect property from fraud’ warning

A Lancashire expert is warning estate agents and owners to take steps to ensure their property is protected from fraud.

Sarah Barnes, head of Residential Property at North West law firm Napthens, reports that it is easier than ever to access information in relation to any property through the Land Registry.

It is possible for anyone to obtain a copy of the title to a property – in previous years this was not the case but to allow developers and other parties to identify landowners more easily, titles were opened up the public.

However, Sarah warns that this may have also left property owners open to fraud, and is advising that safeguards should be put in place to help.

She said: “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 cannot do whilst he/she owns the land, together with details of any mortgages owing.

“To carry out fraud it would be necessary to steal the identity of the owner. This is where it is so important for a lawyer 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 – a property owner’s worst nightmare.

“Some homeowners are more at risk than others, for instance if their identity has been stolen, they rent out their property or if the property is not mortgaged.

“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.

“An owner of a property can sign up to the Land Registry’s 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.

“Any steps an owner can make to reduce the risk of fraud is beneficial – it is better to be safe than sorry.”