Prevent your house being stolen

The Land Registry recently launched a new initiative re-stating their commitment to reducing the level of property fraud, by raising awareness of preventative measures. Properties most vulnerable to registration or mortgage 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 or are landlords. Also at risk are people in hospital or long term care.

Last year in this column we reported how a gang of crooks including a solicitor, a bank manager and a Land Registry clerk successfully conspired to fool developers into buying properties belonging to other people. The gang identified homes that were neglected or abandoned, their owners dead or absent. Then they put up an official-looking board in the garden, with the name of a bogus security firm and a mobile phone number, inviting calls from the house's owners. If no-one called they boarded it up, changed the locks and went ahead and sold the property. The clerk at the Land Registry headquarters was able to supply title deeds together with the owners' signatures so they could be forged. The gang made at least £3.8m but it may have been more.

Other  examples of potential property fraud include a situation where a buy to let landlord got a call from a local estate agent saying that one of his rental properties seemed to be being marketed for sale. Also a relative learned their property had been ístolení by a fraudster impersonating the deceased proprietor.

Launching the new Land Registry service, Alasdair Lewis, Director of Legal Services said: "Fraud affects all parts of today's society and everyone in it, costing this country an estimated £38 billion each year. Government has a zero tolerance to fraud against the public purse but in order to fight fraud, everyone needs to work together. The need for everyone to play their part is just as relevant in the fight against property fraud as in other contexts. "
A property fraud line was launched earlier this month allowing property owners to alert the Land Registry if they are concerned that their property might be subject to a fraudulent sale or mortgage application. Callers can speak to specially trained staff for practical guidance about what to do. The telephone number is 0300 006 7030 and the line is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

As part of its commitment to a range of counter-fraud measures, the Land Registryís trial of a free restriction for absent owners is being continued. Around 5,000 properties have been protected in this way since the trial began in February 2012. There is no Land Registry fee for home owners who wish to register this restriction as long as they do not live in the property. Owner occupiers pay a small fee. This free protection is designed to help prevent forgery, the restriction requires a solicitor or conveyancer to certify they are satisfied that the person selling or mortgaging a particular property is the true owner.

I would suggest that all landlords protect themselves from fraudsters by making sure their property is registered for this new restriction. If you become an innocent victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss as a consequence, you may be compensated. Once registered you can have up to three contact addresses on the register including email addresses or an address abroad can be used. This means the Land Registry will contact you if a transaction is taking place. The more information you provide, the more chance there is of reaching you if someone is trying to steal the title to your property.

Parkinson Property

18th February 2013


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