Picture with the definition of property fraudWe  recently held a counter-fraud conference at which I delivered a presentation in my role as a senior member of our counter-fraud team. We invited speakers from a number of organisations dealing with fraud in order for delegates to learn more about how fraud can occur and ways of tackling it. Amongst the speakers were CIFAS, the Metropolitan Police, Trading Standards, Cabinet office and Government Digital Services.

Land Registry’s presentation focused on property fraud, identifying the most vulnerable properties and owners according to our own direct experience and research. For example, we know there is a higher risk that fraudsters will target residential properties which are empty, mortgage free, of high-value or rented out. Property fraud is known to be carried out most often by organised crime groups or family members. Between 2000 and 2015 we paid £63 million to victims of property fraud where we had changed the register as a result of fraud. Although this indicates that the rate of fraud is very low when compared to the number of transactions we carry out, the impact on the victims is huge. That’s why we urge solicitors and conveyancers to carry out stringent ID checks and advise property owners to do all they can to minimise the risk of fraud.

Example of property fraud

An elderly home-owner had moved in with her family who, with her consent, arranged for her mortgage-free property to be let. New tenants obtained false documentation in the identity of the owner and arranged to mortgage the property. Our staff carried out checks on the application to register the mortgage and found the documents to be fraudulent. The application against this property, which had an estimated value of £4.5 million, was cancelled for reasons of fraud and we reported this case to the police. We are currently assisting the Metropolitan police in their ongoing investigation.

What did we learn from the day?

There were lots of interesting learnings from the day, such as:
– CIFAS offer a “protecting the vulnerable” service for people deemed incapable of managing their own finances under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
– It can take the police up to five years to investigate fraud cases as they are often so complex
– A new National Fraud Taskforce is being set up by the City of London police, the Home Office and banks to look at fraud against the public
– The image of a cyber-criminal as an antisocial teenager alone in their room is outdated. Organised criminals operate more like a small business with sales targets, research and development budgets, salaried employees etc.

The most important learning of the day for me was that it’s hugely important that organisations work together to fight fraud. We will never eliminate fraud completely but by sharing knowledge about how fraudsters operate, we can make fraud harder to commit.

Find out more info about property fraud – www.gov.uk/propertyfraud

By Lynne Feddon,
Counter Fraud Senior Executive at HM Land Registry