Property Title Fraud is a phrase that many may be unaware of and yet, following media reports of a homeowner who discovered that their property had been sold and a new owner had moved in to it, without their knowledge, perhaps it’s something that we should all pay more attention to.
What is Property Title Fraud?
It’s when criminals gain illegal transfer of a property into their name after stealing the owner’s identity or by using false documents. By fraudulently updating HM Land Registry details, they then go on to sell or raise a mortgage against the property – often deceiving solicitors and other parties involved in the process. This differs from Conveyancing Fraud and Rental Fraud.
Who is at risk of Property Title Fraud?
Any homeowner can be at risk although there are some properties that are deemed more susceptible to fraud. These include properties that are:
- Empty for some period of time, such as some rental properties or holiday lets
- Properties that are uninhabited, perhaps because the owner is living overseas
- Properties that are not currently registered with HM Land Registry. These could be properties owned before 1990 and where no mortgage has been taken out on the property since that time. The government has a website here where you can check if – and to who – the property is registered
What can be done to prevent Property Title Fraud?
- Remain vigilant to potential identify theft – Action Fraud, (the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime) provides advice on this here.
- Set up a property alert via HM Land Registry. This ensures that whenever a search or application relating to the property is made, the homeowner (or perhaps a concerned relative) will be notified. Up to 10 properties can be monitored so it might be useful for landlords who have a portfolio of properties. To set up an alert access the HM Land Registry website or contact the Property Alert team on 0300 006 0478.
- Place a restriction on the property to avoid it being registered for sale – or mortgaged – without the owner being consulted. This can be arranged via application to the HM Land Registry, although you may need to gain support from a solicitor. Further information is available via the government website here
Support in Scotland is available via the Registers of Scotland – who keep public registers of land, property, and other legal documents in Scotland. Their website is here In Northern Ireland, support is available here.
What to do if you think you may be a victim of Property Title Fraud
You should urgently contact Action Fraud by phoning 0300 123 2040 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk. Alternatively email email@example.com or contact the property fraud line at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau via 0300 006 7030.