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Protecting your property from fraud

Fraud and scams are now a fact of daily life, and no environment is safe. Not our doorsteps, telephones or Inboxes. Emails bring malware, and cybercriminals lurk whilst we are online to trick us into giving away personal details, goods or money.

The elderly and most vulnerable in our community are targeted, but the reality is that any one of us, however careful, is susceptible to fraud and each day clever and well organised criminals invent new ways of taking money from innocent people.

Property transactions and property are a major target for fraudsters and scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and common. They include criminals who:

  • Set up and hide behind a fake law firm;
  • Intercept and manipulate emails;
  • Impersonate property owners;
  • Try to steal your identity.

In property transactions fraudsters may steal from you by intercepting your emails to trick you as to who you are dealing with. They may also target you by offering an enticing deal for the sale or purchase of property.

Others are targeting the largest asset you may have, namely your property. The aim quite simply is to sell your property or raise a new mortgage on it without your knowledge.

Is your property at risk?

Those at greatest risk are where their title is unregistered, the property is empty, rented, not mortgaged, and/or the owner lives abroad.

How is your property title held?

Your title to the property will usually be registered at HM Land Registry, but your title is held electronically and there is therefore no physical 'title deed' that needs to be produced for the property to be sold or mortgaged. All HM Land Registry titles are public documents.

What protection measures can be taken?

There are measures which can be taken to protect against these risks:

Title Restriction

An entry called a 'form LL restriction' can be entered against the title to protect against forgery by providing that no application can be registered unless a conveyancer certifies that they are satisfied that the person who signed the document submitted for registration is the same person as the registered owner. An adapted version can be used for a company owner.

Wards commonly include an application for this restriction where investment property is purchased, but it can be entered later for a small fee. HM Land Registry allow you to make this application yourself where you do not live in the property.

Property Alerts

This is a service offered to anyone by HM Land Registry. You can sign up to receive an alert by email if there is an application made to make any change to the register of your property, for example if someone tries to register a mortgage.

This is only a limited measure as it won't stop the application but by alerting you, you can then take action. You can get alerts for up to 10 properties - you don't have to own that property or have any permission to set up an alert for it - and there is no fee payable.

Your address for notice

When your title is registered this will show you as the owner and your address which is your contact address. If HM Land Registry need to contact you they will use this, but more than one address can be shown and an email address can be included. It is a small measure but can be very important.

Unregistered Title

If your property is not yet registered then we would recommend that you apply for this to be registered. At Wards Solicitors we offer a fixed fee for this service, and HM Land Registry offer a concession on their usual registration fee. Registration benefits include:

  • Your interest in and title to the property is protected by being part of a public register.
  • You will have security and certainty as to what you own.
  • It will simplify any subsequent transactions whether in your lifetime or by your executors and beneficiaries in the event of your death.

Note: This article should be read as at the date of posting and the information contained may be subject to change. It is not intended as a definitive statement of law or technical advice. If you have any questions please discuss these with your conveyancer.

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