On 20th August this year, while working away from his home in Luton, the Rev Mike Hall was alerted by a neighbour that someone was in his house. He drove home to make the shocking discovery that his property had a new owner. A search of Land Registry showed the property had changed ownership on 4th August. The police informed Mr Hall that there was nothing they could do as it was a civil matter, and that he should leave the property.
An investigation by the BBC’s You and Yours programme found that Mr Hall’s driving licence had been used to set up a bank account in his name to receive the proceeds of the house sale. The new owner purchased the property for £131,000 and now legally own it.
Back in 2017, Mr Minh To of Stockport was concerned when he saw his five-bedroom home advertised on Rightmove. Without his knowledge, the deeds to his house had been transferred into another name and the property was due to be auctioned in three days.
The fraudsters who stole Mr To’s post and forged his signature for the auction documents were eventually jailed but it was found that they had previously targeted couples in Bolton and Salford, where they had succeeded in defrauding their victims of £300,000 and £90,000.
The two men, Saeed Ghani of Prestwich and Atif Mahmood of Gorton, admitted conspiracy to defraud, and were sentenced to jail for seven years and six months and two years and nine months respectively.
What is property title fraud?
If you own or are in the process of buying a home, you could potentially become a victim of property title fraud. This is what happens when someone takes out a mortgage on your property and keeps the funds for themselves.
The mortgage company will think that you owe them money, which is likely to cause you significant problems. In these circumstances, it is the mortgage company that is liable for the money as it has no legal claim over your property.
The Land Registry may be liable to pay compensation, as it has added a non-proprietor to the deeds of the property. The Land Registry pays out millions of pounds each year in compensation for property fraud.
Detection of property title fraud can take some time as it is often only when payments stop that a mortgage company will try to contact the owner.
Who is at risk?
You are more likely to be a victim of land and property fraud if:
- Your identity has been stolen
- You let your property
- You live overseas
- The property is empty
- The property has no mortgage
- The property is not registered with the Land Registry (if you have purchased or mortgaged the property since 1998 it will be registered).
What to do if you think you are a victim of property fraud
If you think you’re a victim of property title fraud contact the Land Registry property fraud line (telephone 0300 006 7030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible and then get in touch with the police to report the fraud.
You can also get advice from a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Service and report the fraud to Action Fraud.
Property title fraud prevention
The Land Registry operates a Property Alert service for property owners in England or Wales. The service won’t prevent someone from changing the register, but when you sign up to the service you will receive email alerts when official searches and applications are received against up to ten monitored properties. Early warning will enable you to swiftly take appropriate action.
You don’t have to own the property to set up an alert, and the same property can be monitored by different people.
A restriction order can be lodged with Land Registry which prevents anyone from placing a charge against the registered property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you. Private individuals not living in the property can complete a Land Registry RQ form, which is free. If you live in the property you can enter a restriction by completing RX1 form, which costs £40.