Five top tips to avoid property fraud
July is HM Land Registry's property fraud awareness month, homeowners are constantly at risk of becoming a victim of fraud so should take measures to protect their property. Marianne Johns, explores the five top tips that you should take to ensure that you don't become a victim of fraud and what to look out for when purchasing a property.
What is property fraud?
At a basic level, property fraud generally involves someone stealing your identity and then using it in order to sell or mortgage your property. If this isn’t discovered, you as the rightful owner could find that your property has been sold or mortgaged without your knowledge. Rectifying this could be both expensive and distressing.
Am I at risk?
In short, anyone who owns a property is at risk. However, you are more at risk if you have:
- rented out your property
- an empty property
- a property which is unregistered
- a mortgage-free property.
How can I protect my current property?
Below is a helpful checklist that you can use to ensure your property is protected from fraud:
1. Register your property with HM Land Registry
If your property is registered, you will be compensated for any financial loss you suffer provided you are an innocent victim of property fraud. If you are unsure as to whether or not your property is registered, you can check at HM Land Registry's website.
2. Sign up to HM Land Registry's property alert service
This will automatically notify you of certain applications affecting your property such as applications for a new mortgage or a change of ownership. You can register for alerts on up to ten properties free of charge.
3. Keep your contact details up to date
Make sure that your contact details registered with HM Land Registry are up to date so that they are able to contact you at any address and at as many email addresses as possible.
4. Apply for a restriction at HM Land Registry
A restriction stops any activity being carried out on your property, such as a transfer or a mortgage, unless a solicitor certifies that the application was made by you. An application costs £40 if you live in the property, but is free if you own the property but do not live in it.
5. Ensure that both tenanted and empty properties are visited regularly and checked for occupiers and post.
What should I look out for on a property transaction?
Be aware of 'get rich quick' schemes. Land banking, for example, is a common scam whereby land is marketed as having high investment potential despite the fact that is can never actually be built on or may not even exist. Complete thorough research beforehand, make sure you contact a legal professional before making any investment and always keep records of conversations and documentation.
During a transaction, never send your bank details by email. Choose your solicitor very carefully and ensure that they are genuine by checking with the Law Society. Ensure you receive the firm's bank details in person or by post, not over email so that you do not inadvertently send any funds to fraudsters.
Quick sale companies
Get your own independent legal advise whenever dealing with a quick sale company.
There is an inherent risk that these homes are not actually owned by the seller. Never purchase a property without the advice of an independent solicitor.
I think I’ve been a victim… What should I do?
Firstly, you should contact HM Land Registry’s property fraud line on 0300 006 7030 immediately as well as Action Fraud .
You should also seek to contact a legal professional as soon as possible to advise you on your legal rights, how to rectify the issue and the next steps.
How can we help?
If you think you have been a victim then please do contact us and our Property Disputes team will be happy to assist you quickly and proactively to rectify this distressing situation.
We can also provide advice on any of the recommended steps in protecting your property such as assisting with registering your property or to advise you on any particular concerns that you may have around a purchase, sale or investment that you are considering.