We have seen it in the news - that traumatic situation where a property is sold by someone who is not actually the true property owner and the true owner is blissfully unaware the property has been sold until after completion.

But how does this happen? And what does it mean for the true owner and the buyer?

Property fraud is becoming more common as fraudsters become wiser to the conveyancing process and the use of technology advances. They will often target empty properties or those for rent to tenants. The fraudster may change their name to that of the true owner, obtain a passport in this name and other ID documentation, and try to sell the property as if they were the true owner. Scary stuff!

After the sale, the fraudster takes off with no way of tracing them to recover the lost monies. This is worrying for the true owner, and for the buyers who may have parted with a substantial sum of money to purchase their new home - which now does not belong to them.

Here at Gabbs Solicitors, we have effective procedures in place to verify and confirm the ID of all clients. Our personal service means we generally meet with our clients face to face enabling us to spot a fraudster. We have enhanced procedures in place if we don’t.

However, there are also things that you can do to protect against the risk of property fraud:

Keeping your details up to date at the Land Registry

The Land Registry is a central government body that keeps a record of all registered land throughout England and Wales. It records details of the names and addresses of registered property owners. You can list up to three addresses with the Land Registry including e-mail addresses. If your property is not registered with the Land Registry, feel free to contact a member of our team who would be happy to discuss the first registration of your property at the Land Registry.

“Property Alert” service

The Land Registry have a Property Alert service for which you can register. The service will notify you by e-mail when there are certain changes made to the property Title - for example if a new mortgage is registered against your home, or if a search is carried out against your property as it should be immediately before completion of a sale. This may or may not stop the fraud, but it will notify you immediately upon any changes meaning both you and the Land Registry can immediately rectify the fraud. You can add up to 10 properties to the Property Alert service. More information on this and details of how to set up your own account can be found here:

https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/

Land Registry Restriction

You can ask your solicitor to place a restriction on the Title of your property at the Land Registry. A restriction will prevent someone from selling, mortgaging or leasing your property without a certificate being provided by your solicitor/conveyancer that they have properly checked the identity of the seller and that the correct seller has signed the documents for sale. If you want to discuss placing a restriction on your Title, please feel free to contact us and a member of our team would be happy to help.

Be aware, and be safe!

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