Property fraud – prevention is better than cure
Since a High Court ruling in 2016 regarding the sale of a South London property by a fraudster claiming to be the registered owner, more emphasis has been placed on protecting properties from property fraud.
Unfortunately it is possible for skilled impersonators to sell your property or take out a mortgage without your knowledge, leaving you with the debt or without the property. Some properties are considered higher risk than others, for example those that are empty for all or part of the year, buy-to-let properties, properties whose owners live abroad or are deceased, and unregistered or mortgage-free properties.
Of course, law firms adhere to strict policies requiring identity and ownership checks before they agree to act on a client’s behalf in property matters – but is there anything else you, as a property owner, can do to reduce your risk?
Firstly, you could consider lodging a ‘restriction’ against a property title, requiring that in future a conveyancer must confirm in writing that they have verified the owner’s identity before proceeding with any property transaction. Restrictions can also record material changes in an owner’s circumstance, such as their death, and so provide additional information that may assist lawyers when it comes to conducting effective identity and ownership checks.
If you hold property with unregistered title, it may be wise to consider voluntarily registering your property ownership with HM Land Registry. Formalising your ownership of the property in question will help to reduce the risk of a fraudster successfully claiming to be you.
Once registered, you can sign up to the Land Registry’s property-monitoring service that is designed to notify you of any attempts to change the official records. The service, which is free of charge, provides registered owners with alerts if, for example, applications are made to record a purchase, lease or new mortgage, allowing you to take action if you suspect fraud.
It is important to keep the Land Registry informed of any changes to your contact details such as a new email or correspondence address so that any suspicious activity alerts reach you quickly – ultimately, it is best to take steps to reduce your risk than to fall foul of criminal impersonation.
If you would like expert help to lodge a property title restriction or need legal advice on any other property matter, George Ide’s solicitors are here to help. Call us on 01243 786668 or email us at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Ariaan Wilson. Solicitor, commercial property department.
Business, Commercial Property, General, George Ide, News, Residential Property Conveyancing