So, how does a property fraudster manage to sell a house they don’t own to an unsuspecting buyer and vanish with the proceeds, leaving the buyer without their money and without the house?
Property fraud is rapidly becoming a huge risk, and fraudsters are becoming more and more adept in their attempts. Some have been known to go as far as changing their name to that of the owner, thus allowing them to sell the property without being properly questioned about whether or not they have the legal ability to sell.
This risk is particularly relevant to buy-to-let landlords who rent their property to tenants, live overseas or otherwise do not live in the property themselves. We can help landlords to protect themselves against this risk but it can cause real anxiety and concern to property owners.
The Land Registry have come up with a number of helpful tools which can protect your home against fraud which you may find useful:
Sign up to track changes on your register of title
Details of all registered properties, and any changes made to the titles of these properties, are dealt with centrally at the Land Registry. The Land Registry have a facility whereby you can sign up to property alerts, meaning if somebody makes an alteration to your title (for example, creating a mortgage or changing the name of the owner), you will be alerted to this. You are allowed to receive up to 10 alerts and there is no fee for this service.
Whilst this will not prevent the change being made to your title, it will alert you as soon as the change has been completed, meaning you can take action sooner rather than later. Alerts will be sent to whichever address is on the Land Registry Title, which leads on to the next point…
Keep your land registry addresses up to date
You are allowed to include up to three addresses on the title to your property, which include both postal and e-mail addresses. It is always useful to include as much contact information as possible – as well as an e-mail address – as this enables us, as solicitors, to ensure we are acting for the correct legal seller of a property. It will also reduce the risk of fraud for you as the property owner. It is important that you keep your address up to date to ensure that any notifications received from the Land Registry are correctly delivered to you.
Add a restriction on your title
The best protection would be to apply to the Land Registry to have a restriction placed on your title; this prevents anybody from being able to sell, mortgage or otherwise carry out any transactions relating to your property without your consent. If you do not live in the property, you can add this restriction on your title for free. If you live at the property, there is a Land Registry fee of £40 for adding the restriction.