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Property fraud: how to avoid it

ITV’s new drama ‘Our House’ shines a light on property fraud

ITV’s new gripping drama Our House centres around all property owners’ worst nightmare. Fiona Lawson returns home to find her house is being lived in by another family who have bought the property without her knowledge.  Although the circumstances in the programme are obviously dramatised – you would hope most people’s ex-partner would not try to sell their property without the other’s knowledge; however, property fraud does happen and is a real concern.  It is something to be very aware of and should your property be in a higher risk category or suspicion is aroused, take action.

Properties at higher risk of fraud

Properties that are at more risk than others are, for example:

  • Rented out
  • Vacant
  • Unregistered
  • Mortgage-free
  • Owners who live overseas

Tips on how to avoid property fraud

Some key recommendations to consider are:

  1. Be vigilant: If you suddenly start to lose post (especially bank statements or utility bills) or if you start receiving post in another person’s name, this could be an indicator that someone is either trying to steal your identity or take out a mortgage to be registered against your property. You should inform the authorities and consider taking further steps to protect your property from being sold by a third party.
  2. Set up alerts: The Land Registry offers a free alert service which will notify you if any application is made to change the register for your property. Whilst this will not prevent the application going through it will give you early notification of something unusual so you can take action, you can set up an alert by using this link – https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/. You could also set up an alert with Rightmove or other similar websites to receive notifications of when properties are advertised for sale in your area. This could help if the fraudster tries to sell the property through an estate agent. 
  3. Verify your identity: One option is to add a restriction to the property register held with the Land Registry. This requires that a solicitor or conveyancer provides a specific certificate to confirm the person dealing with the property is the true owner before any application will be processed. You can speak to a solicitor about adding this restriction.
  4. Check your property is registered: Fraudsters are more likely to target unregistered properties. You can check by carrying out a search with the Land Registry if your property is registered. If it is not, it is advisable to contact a solicitor to deal with a first registration application for you.
  5. Check how the property is owned: If you own a property jointly with someone else, you should take advice about how the property is owned between you to ensure your interest is protected. If you wait until your relationship with your co-owner has broken down it may be more difficult to get the other party to agree to any changes or to sign any required documentation. 

Further information

If you believe you have been a victim of property fraud, you should contact the Land Registry property fraud line and take specific legal advice. For more information, please contact:

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