News

Alert service proves popular in the fight against property fraud

Posted at September 5, 2014 | Categories : News

Six months on from the launch of its Property Alert service, the Land Registry has reported that over 12,000 people have signed up to the free service which provides an early warning of suspicious activity on someone’s property.

Property fraud can happen in many ways. For example, fraudsters may steal someone’s identity and attempt to acquire ownership of a property by using forged documents. The fraudsters may then raise money by mortgaging the property without the owner’s knowledge before disappearing with the money, leaving the owner to deal with the consequences.

The Land Registry has stopped fraud on properties worth more than £66 million in the last five years and gives the following example of where Property Alert could have raised the alarm early on.

“Mr Q rented out his property using letting agents while he lived overseas. His letting agents were approached by someone claiming to have bought the property. This was a surprise to them, so they contacted Mr Q.

Mr Q then contacted Land Registry’s property fraud line. Upon investigation, it was found that an application to transfer Mr Q’s property into the name of a buyer had been received. A staff member also spotted discrepancies between Mr Q’s signature and previously scanned documents. We sent a letter to the buyer’s solicitor requesting confirmation of the steps taken to verify Mr Q’s identity.

Mr Q’s solicitor also contacted Land Registry to confirm that he had known the family for over 20 years and that Mr Q had not sold his property. He referred the matter to the police on Mr Q’s behalf.

As we had not received sufficient evidence from the buyer’s solicitor in respect of the signature verification for Mr Q, we cancelled the transfer application and the sale wasn’t registered.

If Mr Q had signed up for Property Alert he would have received an email alert when Land Registry had first received notification that a transfer of ownership would be arriving. He could then have looked into the matter sooner.”

According to the Land Registry, properties most likely to be at risk from property fraud are:

  • tenanted properties – for example where the landlord lives elsewhere, a tenant might try to mortgage or sell the property without the landlord’s knowledge
  • empty properties – such as where the owner lives abroad or is in a care home
  • where there are family disputes. For example, in a relationship break-down someone could try and mortgage a property without their partner knowing
  • properties without a mortgage