Sally Robinson is Head of Residential Property and Senior Associate at Raworths.
An English man’s home is his castle, or is it? Our homes are often our most valuable assets but do we do all we can to protect them?
Identity theft is not new but fraudsters get increasingly sophisticated and daring. Last year a famous case reported how a property in Wimbledon was purportedly sold for £470,000 by a fraudster claiming to be the owner. By the time the scam was discovered, the money paid over by the unwitting buyer had been transferred into the criminal’s account in Dubai. None of the funds were recovered and the case served as a stark reminder of the need to protect properties from fraud.
Certain types of homes are more at risk than others, for example, tenanted or empty properties where an elderly owner might have moved into a care home, or where the owner lives abroad. These homes could be at higher risk and if a property is without a mortgage it is particularly vulnerable. In addition, and in line with the Government’s policy of greater transparency, online access to the Land Registry is now incredibly easy – for just a few pounds it is possible to find out who owns a property and whether it is mortgaged, valuable information that could fall into the wrong hands if care isn’t taken.
So, what can you do to reduce the risks of your property being sold or mortgaged by identity or other types of fraud? There are two very easy steps to take.
First and foremost, always make sure that the Land Registry has your up to date address. It seems obvious, but it is often overlooked. The Land Registry can register up to three addresses for each owner, only one of which needs to be postal and that can now be an overseas address; you can also register an email address.
You can also sign up to the Land Registry’s free Property Alert Service. This allows you to receive email alerts from the Land Registry when certain activity occurs on your monitored properties, for example, an application to register a sale or a mortgage. You can monitor up to ten properties and you don’t have to own them, so you could monitor an elderly relative’s property.
Simple measures such as these will not guarantee the prevention of title fraud, but they will help reduce the risk. Not taking them is a bit like going out and leaving the back door unlocked…