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By their Deeds ye shall know them

The Land Registry's reliance on paperless deeds gives ID theft opportunities.

When the Land Registration Act 2002 abolished paper deeds, professionals voiced concerns about how easy it would be for fraudsters to impersonate landowners to bring about sales or mortgages of property. With anyone able to check ownership, and mortgage status of registered property at the click of a mouse, a lot of information is publicly available which can help villains transfer ownership of properties fraudulently.

Previously, homeowners or mortgage lenders would be issued with a certificate by the Land Registry, which had to be produced when land was sold or mortgaged. Abolishing those certificates has made costs savings for the Land Registry in terms of printing and postage costs, but what of the increased vulnerability of our national land records to fraud ?

Fraud can occur when a criminal succeeds in impersonating the owner of property to sell it and pocket the proceeds. If the fraudster picks a vacant property and obtains fake ID, he can impersonate the true owner and sell the property or mortgage it to raise easy money. If the fraudster chooses the property carefully, it can be months before the true owner realises that his property has been sold.

Thankfully, the Land Registry guarantees the accuracy of its land registry records, and is obliged to compensate property owners who lose out because of mistakes or fraud. However, it's not always what might be called "no-quibble"…

Official figures reveal that in 2009/10 of a total of £7.7m of public money paid out by the Land Registry for problems with this system, some £4.5m, and £439,000 of legal costs was compensation for losses arising out of fraud on the register.

The Land Registration Act 2002 has provisions for an indemnity to be payable to people who have lost out in these circumstances. However, the Land Registry does not always pay out the full amount and can reduce compensation payable if they believe that the victim has not taken proper care to protect their own position.

We have experience of making claims for disappointed property owners and of negotiating indemnity claims with the Land Registry. It's important to look at all stages of the conveyancing process, which our qualified property experts are able to do, so that we can negotiate robustly to achieve the best possible outcome.

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