5 tips to avoid property fraud during the pandemic

Our 5 tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of property fraud

It is a fact that empty properties are at an increased risk on property fraud. An increasing number of residential and commercial properties have been left empty during the pandemic, as people work from home or spend time in a different property. HM Land Registry has recently drawn attention to the heightened risk of property fraud with scammers taking advantage of the opportunities afforded them by the pandemic.

Perhaps you’ve never even heard of property fraud. It certainly doesn’t seem to have as high a profile as bank fraud or credit card fraud. However, it is on the rise according to HM Land Registry and costing homeowners thousands of pounds.

Between September 2009 and January 2014 HM Land Registry prevented fraud on properties worth more than £62 million. With the average amount lost by homeowners affected by property fraud exceeding £100k, it’s worth taking some simple steps to try to avoid it happening to you.

So, what is property fraud?
In simple terms, property fraud generally involves someone stealing your identity and then using it to sell or mortgage your property. If this isn’t discovered, you could find that your property has been sold or mortgaged without your knowledge.

Property fraud can happen in many ways. For example, someone may attempt to acquire ownership of your property by using forged documents, or by impersonating you. They may then try to mortgage your property, before disappearing without making repayments, leaving you to deal with the consequences.

What sort of properties are at high risk?
Property fraud can happen to any property owner, but you could be at especially high risk if your property is:

• Mortgage free
• Rented out
• Empty
• Unregistered

Five top tips to avoid becoming a victim of property fraud

1) Make sure your property is registered. If you become a victim of fraud and suffer a financial loss as a result, you can be compensated. If your property isn’t registered, then no compensation is payable by the Land Registry. You can find out more about registering land here. The vast majority of properties in England and Wales are registered. Those most likely to be unregistered are properties that haven’t changed hands or been mortgaged since 1990.
2) Check your contact details with HM Land Registry are up to date. This will ensure that they can get in touch if they need to.
3) Inform the Land Registry if the title to the property contains errors. For instance, if you own an investment property it is sensible to make sure that your current home or office address is included as an address for service on the title, so that the Land Registry have the correct contact details for you.
4) Register for HM Land Registry’s Property Alert. They will then send you an email alert when there is certain activity on the monitored property e.g. if someone tries to take out a mortgage on it. Signing up to Property Alert won’t automatically stop fraud from happening. You will need to decide if the activity on the property is potentially fraudulent and act quickly if so. The alert email from HM Land Registry will tell you who to contact. You can find out more here.
5) Place a restriction on the property. A restriction is a form of wording that can be registered on your title to the property requiring that you, or your solicitor, gives a certificate to verify that any application made in relation to your property is made with your consent.

If you find you are a victim of property fraud
The important thing is to do something about it quickly. If you discover that you have fallen victim to property fraud you should:
• Call HM Land Registry’s Property Fraud line on 0300 006 7030
• Get professional legal advice to clarify your legal position and find out what you can do to recover your property/money.

Get in touch
If you find you have been caught out by property fraud, our experienced Disputes team at Penderlaw can help. Alternatively, if you would like advice regarding registration of your property, registering for the HM Land Registry property alerts, or placing a restriction on your property, our Property team would be delighted to help you. You can reach us by calling 01872 241408 or email us info@penderlaw.co.uk