With over 1.8 million people in the UK being effected by ID theft every year, it’s not surprising that it remains a very real concern. However, it seems that it’s not just bank details, computers and tax information that people should be taking measures to protect, as a new trend has seen properties being targeted by criminals.
Here, Carole Fox, head of residential property at law firm Rothera Dowson, explains why property fraud is a major concern and advises on the steps homeowners should take to avoid becoming victims.
For many, their property is the most expensive thing that they own, and as such, it presents a very attractive proposition for criminals. In recent years, there have been many cases of mortgage fraud and a number of other scams that have left homeowners out of pocket. However, we are now seeing a worrying move towards the use of ID fraud to enable criminals to both sell and mortgage properties that they don’t own.
In order to get a greater understanding, I think it helps to take a look at the law as it stands.
Basically, if a property is registered at the Land Registry, the seller isn’t required to produce any deeds, as they’re all stored electronically. All they have to do is satisfy those involved in the purchase that they’re the seller, which can obviously cause a major issue if the seller has been a victim of ID fraud.
If a property is not registered, then deeds will need to be produced, creating more of a problem for the criminal, but worryingly, this is not an impossible task.
There are particular groups of people that have been identified as being most at risk of this kind of activity:
· Elderly people who are in hospital or in long-term residential care, leaving their home unoccupied
· Couples who have suffered a breakdown in their relationship and have vacated their home without selling
· Homeowners who spend a large portion of the year living abroad
· Landlords who own and let a property, without actually spending any time there themselves
These groups tend to be primary targets, as, in most cases, the properties are owned without a mortgage, making it easier for fraudsters to attempt a sale.
Thankfully, cases of this kind of crime are rare, but that’s not to say that people still shouldn’t take precautions.
The first thing homeowners should do, is to consider getting their properties registered. This may sound a little strange given the fact that properties registered with the Land Registry don’t require deeds to be presented upon sale, but it does offer more protection. If the property is not registered, it is to some extent easier to commit the fraud, as nobody can actually tell who owns it unless they have the deeds to the property. It is possible to make an application to the Land Registry on the basis that the deeds have been lost and if they are satisfied that that is the case, and that the person making the application is the owner, then they will register the property and the fraudster can get on with raising funds on it.
It’s also vitally important that homeowners keep contact details up-to-date. When homeowners move, there can be dozens of people that require the new information and, unfortunately, the Land Registry can sometimes be forgotten if the homeowners have properties other than just the house that they live in.
It’s essential for property owners to make sure the information is correct. The Registry allows three different addresses to be stored for each owner, and that does include email addresses, which is great for those who spend a lot of time on the move.
Finally, it’s important to remember that ID fraud is one of those things that can be avoided. If homeowners follow Police and Government advice about personal documents and information, and take time to protect themselves, then their properties stand more chance of remaining in safe hands.
For further residential property legal advice from Rothera Dowson, visit www.rotheradowson.co.uk or call 0800 124 4012