A new guide to help avoid property title fraud, where home ownership can be stolen, has been released by the Fraud Advisory Panel, HM Land Registry and the Law Society.
The increasingly-common scam happens when a fraudster changes the registered details of a building to pose as its owner. The fraudster then applies for a mortgage or sells the property to an unwitting buyer and disappears with the proceeds.
In the financial year 2020/21 HM Land Registry received 22 claims for indemnity in relation to property title fraud and paid out £3.5m worth of compensation for these claims.
Owners of empty homes are considered particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud, as are properties which have a high value, are not mortgaged, or whose owners have recently died.
The guide gives people who own a property, or who are thinking of buying one, four steps to take to protect themselves from this type of fraud. These are:
- Ensure your property is registered with HM Land Registry. This creates an official record that can be checked by anyone who needs to confirm your ownership and gives extra legal protections. You can apply for voluntary registration if your property is not already registered.
- Keep your registered details up to date in case HM Land Registry need to send you official letters or notices, which could be early signs of fraud.
- Sign up to HM Land Registry’s free online property alert service, which will give an immediate notification if someone tries to change the register for your property.
- If you’re at particular risk of property fraud, you can apply for a restriction on your title so a conveyancer will need to formally certify any sale.
David Clarke, chair of the Fraud Advisory Panel, says: “Property title frauds are rare, but can have a terrible impact on victims and result in them losing their homes. By taking the simple steps outlined in this guide homeowners can take steps to protect themselves from property title fraud.
And I Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, adds: “Property title fraud can have devastating consequences for victims, and we urge people to follow the steps set out in the guidance in order to help protect their homes.
“Solicitors are alert to this and other cruel schemes, such as payment diversion fraud, which can cost victims hundreds of thousands of pounds and even see their house stolen by the fraudsters.”
The full property title fraud guide is available to read here.