There has been a worrying increase in the volume and variety of scams which are out to remove money from unsuspecting people. We all know that if something seems too good to be true, then it is. No ‘if’s or ‘but’s – it is not true. However, there is a property scam which can happen to you without you being aware of it!
The way the scam works is that the unscrupulous person will pose as a tenant, and then put the house up for sale in the name of the (absentee) landlord. He (or she) will probably have counterfeit documentation showing their identity, and unless very stringent tests are made, the criminal will fool the agents, the solicitors, and, of course, the would-be purchasers.
Your property is most at risk if it is rented out or empty, some distance from where you live, isn’t mortgaged and/or isn’t on the register. Most properties will be on the register if they have changed hands since the 1990’s – if it has been in the same ownership for longer than that, there is a way to check on the Land Registry website – https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.
The Land Registry have launched Property Scam Awareness Month to highlight the possible traps by which property owners can be snared. On their website, they suggest steps you can take to “protect your land and property from fraud”. The type of fraud they mean is an extension of identity theft, where an imposter takes out a loan on – or even sells – your property. These measures include ensuring the property is registered with the Land Registry, as they will send a letter to the appropriate address when something occurs – if your address isn’t on their records, the letter gets sent to the property itself, right into the hands of the scammer.
A case reported in The Mail in December shows how easy it is. The new tenant put the property in London up for sale almost immediately he took possession of the keys, and didn’t even move any furniture in. The owner of the property was abroad, and relied upon the agency management to check references etc. The house was sold for £1.3million – the purchaser had sent a cheque to a bank in Dubai, and had even made arrangements for builders to fit a new kitchen before being informed that the house belonged to someone else.
The Land Registry now offer an alert scheme, whereby they will send you an email if any attempt is made to make a financial transaction in regard to a property you have asked them to monitor. This will act as an early warning should a criminal have intent to commit fraud. There is no fee for monitoring up to 10 properties, and more than one person can monitor an address – it is thought that people might want to monitor the addresses of elderly or vulnerable relatives. The sign up page is here. https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/