Tue 09 Sep 2014 View all news articles

Property Alert service popular in battle against property fraud

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

Alasdair Lewis, director of legal services at the Land Registry, said: “We introduced Property Alert to help people to protect their most valuable asset – their home. We’re glad that Property Alert has proved so popular. However, there are still many homeowners who are unaware of the risk of property fraud and how to protect themselves so we are asking people to share our advice and video with their friends and family to spread the word.”

The Land Registry provided the following example of where Property Alert could have raised the alarm earlier:

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.

What is property fraud?
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.

Land Registry has stopped fraud on properties worth more than £66 million in the last five years. In a recent case, two fraudsters managed to pocket £50k by selling an empty home they didn’t own. Staff at Land Registry spotted the fraud before it was registered but the fraudsters got away with the money and are still wanted by police.

To use Property Alert homeowners and landlords can set up a free online account with the Land Registry.

Members can monitor up to 10 properties. Email alerts will be sent when Land Registry receives an application to change the register as well as for official searches.

Users can then judge whether or not the activity is suspicious and if they should seek further advice. For example, if you receive an alert that a bank has lodged a search on your property but you haven't applied for a mortgage, you may want to seek legal advice, contact Action Fraud, or contact the bank in question to tell them you are the owner and have not applied for a mortgage. Investigations into the authenticity of the mortgage application can then begin much earlier in the process.

The Land Registry says properties most likely to be at risk from property fraud include tenanted properties, empty properties, properties where there are family disputes, or properties without a mortgage.

Source Estate Agent Today
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