A man in Luton discovered that building work was underway and someone had bought his house without his knowledge. A BBC investigation found the owner’s identity had been stolen and used to sell his house and that the fraudster had banked the proceeds.
Once the house was sold to the new owner their ownership was registered at the Land Registry and the new owners therefore legally owned the property. The solicitors involved in the property transaction said there was an ongoing police investigation and that it was inappropriate to comment further.
Property fraud is increasing, with criminals becoming ever more ingenious in the ways they carry it out. Criminals purport to be the true owner and then either sell or raise finance on the property.
Although there is a state guarantee of title offered by the Land Registry, meaning someone who has been damaged by an error is likely to be repaid, unravelling such a transaction will be time consuming, stressful and complicated.
Properties that are most likely to be targeted are those that are mortgage-free and in sole ownership. Other targets are properties with absent owners, especially landlords or owners living overseas.
How can you protect your property?
When acting in a sale or purchase solicitors will carry out extensive checks to verify your identity. However, if your property is registered and you think it might be at risk, you do not have to wait until you are buying or selling to protect it. You can sign up for the free Land Registry Property Alert service. Once registered, your properties are then monitored, and you will receive a notification if someone is trying to transfer the property into their name or register a charge on it before that registration is completed.