As we have evolved and adapted to technology, we have all become used to taking steps to protect ourselves from online scams, fraud, phishing and other nefarious activities. Whether it’s password protecting our accounts, not accessing sensitive sites (e.g. your bank account) on public networks or deleting and marking suspicious emails as spam, it’s become all but second nature.
What we may not think about nearly as much is the risk of scams that can impact our homes. Property fraud is a real, and growing, issue in the UK. What do you need to know so you can protect yourself – and your biggest investment? And what does all of this have to do with title deeds?
Title Deeds and Fraud
In recent years, there have been hundreds of claims filed relating to property fraud – and keep in mind that it is typically vastly underreported. In more of the more egregious examples of this type of criminal activity, a UK homeowner had his house stolen right out from under him.
The owner had to travel for work and was gone for a lengthy period. His neighbours phoned him and said that someone was staying at his house. When he returned home the next morning… someone else was in fact, taking up abode. Imagine the shock. Confusion took over as the new owners had no idea who he was and why he was claiming to be the legal, rightful owner of the house. The original owner was equally perplexed (and likely livid!) because this was home.
The gentleman’s identification had been stolen. The scammers used his ID to sell the property to the unsuspecting ‘new owners’ and walked away with the cash. The person who purchased the house had been living there for at least a month. The original defrauded owner said, ‘We then tried to access the Land Registry documentation online to find out whose name appeared… and it is, in fact, as of 4 August, this man’s name.’ That is, the title deeds reflected the name of the new owner.
Fortunately in this case, the scammer was arrested.
Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as you would hope. Scammers sell the homes in some cases, but perhaps more commonly, they take out loans that use the property as security. They can defraud homeowners of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds or more.
It is distressing how easy it was for the scammers we mentioned above to defraud the victim and steal his house. The good news is that you can take some simple steps to protect yourself and keep your title deeds and home safe from property fraud.
Do This Now
If you own a home in the UK, register it with the Land Registry as soon as possible, if you have not already. Correct any information that is not accurate. After you do this:
Sign Up for the Property Alert Service from the Land Registry
This is a service provided by the Land Registry. If there are any searches or applications against your property (e.g. A scammer applies to change the name of your title deeds), you will receive a notification via email. The service does not block the changes, but it does ensure that you are aware of what is happening. It gives you the opportunity to take action and stop the fraud before it can be completely devastating.
Apply for a Restriction on Your Property
Another service of the Land Registry, you can apply to be a restriction on your house/property title deeds. When this is done, the Land Registry will not register a sale or a mortgage unless a solicitor or conveyancer certifies that you made the application.
Property fraud can create severe consequences for victims. Like the owner in the example, we discussed above, you may literally find your house has been sold without your consent or knowledge. This is an extreme case, to be sure, but fraud is serious across the board. It can cost you untold sums of money and put your biggest investment at risk.
Protect your home by taking a few simple steps now. It is worth the few moments it will take to sign up for the Land Registry Property Alert Service and to put a restriction on your title deeds. The payoff is increased peace of mind.
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