House Sale Scam – Protect Yourself from Property Fraud Today
Property fraud is becoming an increasingly worrying issue. We take a look at the steps you can take to protect your property or land from being fraudulently sold or mortgaged.
January 8, 2016
The rise of fraud
If you don’t have a mortgage, are a buy-to-let landlord or own a vacant property, you may be vulnerable to property fraud.
As many as 21 linked property scams against ‘high-value’ homes are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police’s Falcon (cybercrime) unit, following huge sums of money disappearing to locations in the Middle East.
As recently reported in the Daily Mail, Max and Penny Hastings were stunned to discover that Penny’s West London property had been sold for over £1.35 million without their knowledge.
Their tenant, posing under the title ‘Mr Hafter’, had placed the property with estate agents Foxtons almost immediately after taking possession of the house. He claimed to be acting on behalf of ‘Penelope Hastings’ and a price was quickly agreed with an eager buyer.
Max and Penny later learned that a woman from South East London had changed her name to ‘Penelope Hastings’ via deed poll and secured a passport with her name, thus providing ‘Mr Hafter’ with an official document which shockingly sufficed for the sale of the property.
Fortunately for Max and Penny, they discovered that Penny still owned the property as her legal title to the house was not disputed. The Land Registry, which is responsible for holding records of property or land, declined to register the sale.
The detective investigating the case said that in the past few months, the Metropolitan Police has handled many similar cases, including four in which criminals were successful in collecting cash from the sale.
How to protect your property
Setting up an account and adding details of your property will take 5 minutes at the most. All you need is a valid email address and the postcode of the property you wish to register.
If there is certain activity on the title, you will receive an email. If it is something you know about (for example, if you are re-mortgaging or selling) then you can ignore it. If it is something you are unaware of, contact the Land Registry and your solicitor as soon as you can.
The tool’s main purpose is to ensure owners pro-actively protect their assets.
It is the case that registration takes place after a transaction has completed, meaning a buyer is still at risk of paying over sale proceeds to a fraudster. However, receiving notice of applications as soon as the Land Registry receives them will still be of benefit as it may allow the money to be secured before it ends up in the hands of the fraudster.
Property Alert was created to help owners of registered properties detect property fraud but it is not restricted to owners. It isn’t necessary to own the property or properties being monitored and it is open equally to a buyer as well as a seller. One example we use when publicising the service is that the children of elderly parents in care who still own their property might wish to register for the service as an additional safeguard against fraud.
Why should you register?
You’re more at risk if:
- your identity’s been stolen
- you rent out your property
- you live overseas
- the property’s empty
- the property isn’t mortgaged
- the property isn’t registered with the Land Registry
Your property will be registered if you bought it or mortgaged it since 1998 – check the register if you’re unsure.
You must tell the Land Registry if information in the register is incorrect, e.g. if you change your contact address.
I’ve been a victim of property fraud. What can I do?
If you think you have been a victim of property fraud, contact the Land Registry property fraud line:
Land Registry property fraud line
Telephone: 0300 006 7030
Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm