Lynne Feddon, Counter Fraud Senior Executive, answers some of your questions about property fraud.
What is property fraud?
Property is usually the most valuable asset people own. It can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and can therefore be an attractive target for fraudsters. The type of frauds we usually see are where fraudsters first steal your identity and then sell or mortgage your property by pretending to be you. If it isn’t discovered promptly, you as the true property owner might find your property has been transferred or sold without your knowledge. Fixing the mess and getting any mortgage taken off your register can be distressing, time-consuming and costly.
How common is it?
Thankfully this type of property fraud is quite rare, but if you are the unlucky victim, it can have devastating effects. That is why prevention is much better than cure.
We recently had a case where a landlord was renting out a property in England while he lived overseas. He realised that absent landlords are more at risk of property fraud and signed up to our free Property Alert service. Sometime later he received an alert email informing him of a mortgage application being made against his property worth over £300,000. As he wasn’t expecting this, he contacted our property fraud line. Using this intelligence, we investigated and discovered the fraud. We then prevented the application from being registered. His contact details were out of date, so we advised him to update them, which he did. This means that if we need to contact him in the future, he will receive our emails or letters.
What can people do to protect themselves?
There are a few options:
- Ensure your property is registered. If you become an innocent victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss as a consequence, you may be compensated. If your property isn’t registered then no compensation is payable. Find out about registering land;
- Once registered, make sure your contact details are up-to-date so we can reach you easily. You can have up to three addresses on the register including an email address or an address abroad. If your details are not up to date, you may not receive our letter or email if we try to contact you;
- Sign up for HM Land Registry’s award-winning free Property Alert service that helps owners to guard against property fraud. We will send you an email alert when there is certain activity on the monitored property e.g. if someone tries to take out a mortgage on it. If you receive an alert, you can judge whether the activity is suspicious and seek further advice – gov.uk/property-alert;
- Owners who feel their property might be at risk can have a restriction entered on their property. A restriction is intended to stop activity on your property, such as a transfer or a mortgage, unless a conveyancer or solicitor confirms the application was made by you. There is no fee for home owners to register this restriction as long as they do not live in the property they wish to protect. Request a restriction
Who is most at risk?
You’re more at risk if your property:
- is rented out;
- is empty, such as if the owner is abroad or in a care home;
- is mortgage-free; and
- isn’t registered with HM Land Registry.
What is HM Land Registry doing to combat property fraud?
We have a dedicated counter-fraud team and have introduced new processes and technology in recent years. As a result of these actions, we know more about the way fraudsters have targeted particular property groups, such as those listed above.
We work closely with a number of stakeholders including the Law Society, National Crime Agency and Financial Conduct Authority to reduce the opportunities for fraud and identify and take corrective action when it has happened.
Whilst no system can eradicate fraud completely, since September 2009 we have prevented frauds on over 200 applications representing properties valued in excess of £92m. (Figures updated in September 2016).
If you think you may be the victim of property fraud, you should:
- contact our property fraud line on 0300 006 7030 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm) or email email@example.com; or
- contact a legal professional such as a solicitor or Citizens Advice and Action Fraud.
For more information: www.gov.uk/propertyfraud