Property fraud is a more serious risk than many home owners realise, which is why the UK Land Registry has urged landlords to take greater care to prevent their properties from being fraudulently sold or mortgaged in the coming year.
Some may be alarmed to learn that such a thing is even possible. However, fraudsters are capable of not only feigning ownership of the property by impersonating the owner and forging their signature, but they could even mortgage the property off without the owner's knowledge and then disappear with the money.
This will leave the owner saddled with the repayments, and the mortgage company with no claim to the property. This kind of fraud is also quite difficult to pick up, since most people will only view their property title on the registry when they're looking to sell it. By the time the mortgage company realises that the repayments are not being made, it will already be too late.
How can I prevent property fraud?
First of all, it helps to know the factors that make it easier for property fraudsters to successfully target you. According to Market Harborough Building Society, your property is at greater risk of fraud if:
• It's usually empty, i.e., because you live overseas
• You rent it out
• You haven't mortgaged the property or registered it with the Land Registry
• Your identity has been stolen, in which case properties registered in your name will be one of many possessions at risk
With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from property fraud:
• Register: Your first step should be to ensure that the property is registered with the Land Registry. Get details on how to register property on Gov.uk.
• Check your details: Check to see if your property is registered and if it is, ensure you inform the Land Registry if any of your details are incorrect. This is so that they know how they can get hold of you in the event of any suspicious activity on the register. It's also a good idea to sign up for property alerts, which means you'll get notifications if anyone tries to change your property’s registration. You can get alerts for up to 10 properties without having to pay any fees.
• Put a restriction of the title: You can request a restriction on the property, which means the Land Registry will refuse to register a sale or mortgage on the property until a conveyancer or solicitor certifies that the person who made the application is the same person who has registered ownership of the property. A restriction costs £40.
It's suggested that you immediately contact the Land Registry and the police if you suspect property fraud, and when you buy or sell property, be sure to seek professional advice on how to best protect yourself against fraudsters.