Alasdair Lewis, Director of Legal Services, said:
Since we launched our property fraud line, property-owners have become more aware of the risk of someone stealing their identity in order to either sell or take out a mortgage on their home before disappearing with the money. That’s why we urge homeowners to follow our advice to reduce their risk of falling victim to property fraud.
How can property fraud happen?
A recent case shows how property fraud can happen:
Penny Hastings called Land Registry’s property fraud line after becoming suspicious that someone had fraudulently sold a property which she owned and rented out. It turned out the tenant was part of a fraud ring – once he’d rented Penny’s house using a false identity, he and an accomplice put the house on the market. The accomplice was a lady who had changed her name to Penelope Hastings by deed poll and then secured a passport in that name. However, Land Registry did not register the sale as we suspected a fraud. This meant that Penny Hastings still maintains the legal ownership of the property. Unfortunately, an unwitting buyer paid £1.35 million for the property. The police are currently investigating the fraud.
Property fraud line
The property fraud line was launched on 5 February 2013 for owners to quickly alert Land Registry if they are concerned their property might be subject to a fraudulent sale or mortgage. It forms part of Land Registry’s ongoing fraud prevention and detection techniques to safeguard people’s registered properties.
Callers can speak to specially trained staff for practical guidance about what to do next. The telephone number is 0300 006 7030 and the line is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can people do to protect themselves?
Sign up for Land Registry’s free Property Alert service
Our Property Alert service helps owners to guard against property fraud. We will send you an email alert when there is certain activity on the monitored property such as an application to register a new mortgage. If you receive an alert, you can judge whether the activity is suspicious and seek further advice – www.gov.uk/property-alert.
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.
Apply for a restriction
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.
All of our property fraud advice can be found at www.gov.uk/propertyfraud.
Whilst no system can eradicate fraud completely, since September 2009 we have stopped 199 fraudulent applications on properties worth around £82 million.
The properties most vulnerable to property fraud are usually empty, tenanted or mortgage-free. Individuals at a higher risk of fraud include owners who do not live in the property because they live abroad, buy-to-let landlords, people in long-term hospital or residential care or where a relationship has broken down.
Notes to Editors
Further details of the case study mentioned can be found in this Daily Mail article.
With the largest transactional database of its kind detailing more than 24 million titles, Land Registry underpins the economy by safeguarding ownership of many billions of pounds worth of property.
As a government department established in 1862, executive agency and trading fund responsible to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Land Registry keeps and maintains the Land Register for England and Wales. The Land Register has been an open document since 1990.
For further information about Land Registry visit www.gov.uk/land-registry. Follow us on Twitter @LandRegGov our blog and LinkedIn and Facebook.