For most home owners their home is their most valuable asset. Once a property has been registered with the Land Registry, the paper deeds are no longer necessary and are mainly of historical interest. Evidence of title to a registered property in England and Wales is obtained from the Land Registry, online and immediately; unfortunately, potential fraudsters have seen these changes as a good opportunity for their endeavours.
Property Fraud is a potentially serious, but lesser known category of fraud and is essentially someone stealing and selling your home or the land that it is built on. Furthermore, the property or land could also be used to fraudulently apply for a mortgage, as it can be an attractive and easy target due to the monetary values involved. The Land Registry has stated that these issues are on the increase and since September 2009, it has prevented cases worth £70m. They have not revealed the figure for cases not prevented and indeed many cases have probably not been discovered yet.
With this in mind, it is easy to see that the risk to both individuals and companies is increasing annually. However, there is good news, as there are ways to mitigate this risk and reduce the risk of property fraud.
What can you do?
The Land Registry now allows property owners to complete a form and place a restriction on the title of its properties to stop anyone else registering fake details about them without their knowledge. This is a very simple and low cost process that could pay dividends if your property or land is targeted by fraudsters.
Companies can also sign up for property alerts from the Land Registry to instantly warn them if anything suspicious happens. This is a free service aimed at anyone who feels a registered property could be at risk from fraud, and allows the individual or company to take action if necessary.
The risk applies to everyone, however who is particularly at risk?
The Land Registry has identified that certain categories of owners may be more susceptible to registration and property frauds:
Some clients may be particularly at risk for example:
- if they live abroad or they no longer live in the property;
- the property is let or it is empty;
- they have already been a victim of identity fraud;
- they are a personal representative responsible for a property where the owner has died and the property is to be sold.
Some types of property are also particularly vulnerable for example:
- unoccupied properties, both residential and commercial;
- tenanted properties;
- high value properties without a legal charge;
- high value properties with a legal charge in favour of an individual living overseas;
- properties undergoing redevelopment.
Ben Delany is a paralegal in the commercial property team in St Austell. If you would like to discuss any of these matters or you believe that this criteria applies to you, please feel free to contact Ben on 01726 74433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.