Have you recently bought a property? Did you know property fraud is on the up?
In-fact, you may not realise that anyone can obtain a copy of the title to your property by visiting the Land Registry website.
In 2002, all registered titles in England and Wales were digitised and the old paper Land Certificates and Charges certificates became redundant. Subject to payment of the necessary fee to the Land Registry, anyone can access the title to a property. This, added to the increased incidence of identity fraud, has opened a new avenue to possible fraudsters.
There have been a number of instances reported in the press of fraudsters posing as the owners of registered property and selling it on to an unsuspecting buyer. The innocent buyer stands to lose all of the monies paid over to the fraudster who needless to say will usually disappear into the ether.
Initially the fraudster needs to steal the identity of and hold himself or herself out as the owner of the targeted property. By law the estate agent and solicitor must carry out identity checks on potential sellers, however if their processes are less than robust, this makes the fraudster’s task that much easier and adds an air of legitimacy to their scheme.
It makes sense for a homeowner to take certain steps to reduce the risk of the property being fraudulently sold or, in some cases, mortgaged. Properties that are particularly at risk are those where the owner does not live there because they live overseas or in some other part of the country, rent it out, the property is empty for long periods and not mortgaged.
Obviously, this is a worrying issue, but there are a couple of things you can do to help as a pro-active measure to help.
The Land Registry has devised two main ways to try to alleviate the situation – these are as follows:
1.The placing of a restriction on a title so that no changes can be made to the Register without a solicitor or conveyancer certifying that the application is made by the registered proprietor. If the owner does not live at the property this is free; if they live at the property there is a fee of £40.
2.You can also sign up to the Property Alert Service. If someone applies to change the register to a property the owner will be alerted by e-mail. It will not stop the changes, but makes one aware of activity on the title.
If you have any questions about land registry or indeed about conveyancing and the buying and selling process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – 0208 370 2800.
– Robert Dawson, Conveyancer, Barnes and Partners Solicitors Edmonton