Homeowners and landlords are being warned about the growing threat of property fraud.
Property hijacking or title fraud is when a criminal steals the registered owner’s identity and changes the property title from the owner’s name to theirs.
One way they do this is to use a Land Registry application by registering a forged transfer or mortgage.
They can also then apply for loans using the real owner’s equity as collateral.
Alternatively, a tenant could rent out a property using fake documents, then change their name by Deed Pol to take on the landlord or owner’s name and then put the property on the market with an estate agent.
When the property is sold and the conveyancing process begins, it is difficult to spot any discrepancies and if no one is suspicious, the sale will go through.
Once the fraudster gets the proceeds from the sale, the money is usually transferred quickly to an overseas bank and is impossible to get back.
Criminals often target sole owners, especially of unmortgaged properties, absent owners such as landlords, owners who are in a hospital, care homes or who have died and those living overseas.
The issue has been given more prominence thanks to a recent TV drama starring Line of Duty’s Martin Compston.
Our House is based on the best selling novel of the same name by Louise Candlish in which a mum of two discovers her house has been sold without her knowledge as a result of criminal activity.
Although the drama is a work of fiction, it was inspired by a real life property fraud case in 2015.
The original victims discovered their London home had been rented to a tenant and later sold on his instructions using forged documents.
Last year HM Revenue revealed it had paid out £2.1million in compensation for fraud and a further £3.2million for inaccuracies within its register in the period 2019-20, a rise from £0.4million and £2.2million respectively the year before.
Sheldon Bosley Knight’s business development manager Nik Kyriacou said: “Sadly this type of complex fraud is not uncommon so it really pays to be vigilant and protect yourself and your property.
“The most important thing you can do is register an anti-fraud restriction on your property with HM Land Registry and sign up for alerts. The alerts are free but registration costs £40.
“It means a solicitor will have to certify any application that is made to register a sale or mortgage on your property. The solicitor will have to confirm they are satisfied whoever signs the document is the proper, registered owner. If they are not then the application is blocked.
“It also pays to make sure you get accurate references if you are renting out your property to a tenant and make sure you use a registered solicitor and FCA approved mortgage brokers.
“Also, if you are renting out your property, do so through a letting agent such as Sheldon Bosley Knight who is a member of Propertymark.”
Visit Protect your land and property from fraud – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) for advice on how to protect yourself and your property.