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Property Fraud: A house is sold without owner’s knowledge

A BBC investigation has revealed that a man’s house was sold and his furnishings removed without his knowledge, in the latest example of property fraud.

The Reverend Mike Hall was working away from his property in Luton and tipped off by neighbours that building work was under way in his home.

Hall's identity had been stolen and used to sell the house and the fraudster was able to bank the proceeds.

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"I went to the front door, tried my key in the front door, it didn't work and a man opened the front door to me” Hall has told BBC Radio 4. 

"I pushed him to one side and got in the property. I really didn't know what he was doing there. The shock of seeing the house completely stripped of furniture; all furnishings, carpet, curtains - everything - was out of the property."

Hall continues, in an interview for the You And Yours consumer programme: "We then tried to access the Land Registry documentation online to find out whose name appeared... and it is, in fact, as of 4 August, this man's name. At that point the police said, 'Well, there's nothing further we can do here. This is a civil matter; you need to leave the house and contact your solicitors.'"

Hall’s inability to get police support for the issue shocked him.

"I was in a bit of a state of shock anyway - but then to be told by the police they didn't believe a criminal offence had been committed here was just unbelievable.”

The BBC has now obtained a duplicate driving licence issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Hall's name, details of a bank account set up in his name to receive the proceeds of the sale, and phone recordings of the house being ‘stolen.’

Last month the Law Society of England and Wales - joining forces with the National Economic Crime Centre and Action Fraud - to issue flyers warning of the risk of payment diversion fraud.

The Law Society says property frauds almost always involve the criminals pretending to be the victim’s lawyer to con them into diverting their payment to an account the crooks control.

“We are urging our members to share these flyers with their clients in order to help protect them from these highly-sophisticated and cruel schemes” says Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce.

“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances. Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals.”

One buyer was scammed into handing over £640,000. 

 

Emails between the buyer and their solicitor had been intercepted by criminals, who were able to collect all the information relating to the house purchase.

They then used a spoofed email account - made to look like that of the solicitor - to request payment. Payment details were provided on headed solicitors paper via the spoofed email, and the amount requested was exactly what the buyer had expected to pay.

You can see more details of the Luton case involving the Reverend Mike Hall, here.

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    It gave me the shivers to read this. It’s frightening to believe that these criminals successfully pulled off a house theft.

  • Roger  Mellie

    Where is your god now, reverend?

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    A bit low even for you.

     
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    Such a sad comment. Not much going on in your life?

     
    John Durrant

    I was always taught never to mock the afflicted, but in your case, I might make an exception.

     
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    Always best to sign up for land registry alerts on any property you own .

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    Asking through ignorance Dee but will it not be too late by that time. The LR, certainly in Scotland seems to take a few weeks to update after a sale. Genuine query.

     
    Matthew Payne

    The alert flags effectively a download or activity, not completion.

     
  • Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    Everyone's ID/AML procedures need to be seriously looked at. No one should ever be looking at a passport and making a judgement call. There is serious tech to help with ID/AML and it is criminal if it is not being used to best effect.
    This article is terrifying to read, but it simply highlights the fact that still far too many agents and conveyancers are taking high risks when it comes to ID/AML solutions.

  • Ed Mead

    This has been going on for over 30 years do always slightly amazed when people think it’s new. It’s shocking and tends to happen with unmortgaged property for obvious reasons. It can be stopped in its tracks if everyone sets up a property alert with land reg. Can’t post the link but easy to find..

  • Matthew Payne

    Lettings agents should be also be aware, in my experience conjoined ID/proof of owernship checks are nowhere near the same standard that Resi agents have been forced to adopt. Robust processes in place for change of email address/phone number mid tenancy are also critical, its a targeted MO for fraudsters to slowly hijack a landlords rent/property through contact with their managing agent.

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    This happened to one of my clients his tenant sold the property, the new owners built an extension, detached garage, installed a giant jacuzzi and landscaped the garden this all added value to the property so when he finally got it back he sold it, Every Cloud!!!

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    Stolen property of any description cannot be owned and must be returned to its rightful owner. The police response, if reported accurately, is incorrect or one could argue negligent as theft has occurred which is a criminal offence and requires investigation. If the true owner can demonstrate that he did not actually sell the property, title remains his.

  • Rob Hailstone

    I can't post the link here, but if you search HMLR Property Alert Service, that should take you to the relevant page.

  • Andrew Barden

    Many years ago (approx. 2005) I sold a property by auction for a seller with the required identification including passport and utility bill. Two years on it came to light I had acted for a tenant who had changed his name by deed poll to that of his landlord and could therefore provide the requisite ID to pass our AML check at that time. The police prosecuted the tenant who received a custodial sentence. Even today there is still no way of evidencing on a persons passport previous name changes. Unfortunately these type of scams have been around for years and just get more sophisticated with time.

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