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Property fraud - how can I avoid being a victim?
Fraudsters are increasingly attempting to acquire “title” to property and thereby ownership by impersonating the registered owner or attempting to transfer the property into their own name. Often the objective of the fraudster is to mortgage the property (with no intention of making any repayments) leaving the defrauded owner to deal with the consequences.
You are vulnerable to fraud if your property is empty or let out, you are abroad or infirm or in a home or you no longer have a mortgage.
Precautions against property fraud
One of the most basic and fundamental steps property owners can, and should, take to protect them against this type of fraud is to ensure that the address for service shown on the registered title to the property is correct and up to date.
Each time a new owner of land is registered, the Land Registry enters the name of the registered owner and their address for service on the title. For most individuals, whose only property is their home, this is simply the same as the property address. However the situation is more complicated if an individual, or company, owns more than one property, especially where that individual moves house or where a company changes its registered office. In these circumstances, it is imperative that notification of the change of address is sent to the Land Registry as soon as possible.
If you do not occupy the property for example if your property is let out you should notify the Land Registry of your current address.
Another way is to register a restriction to prevent impersonation. This is relatively new and ensures that proper identity checks of all parties are carried out before money changes hands on a transaction.
Isn’t it sufficient to notify Companies House of a change of registered office?
Unfortunately not: even where a company updates its registered office at Companies House, the Land Registry will not automatically update the company address on the title.
What if a change of address is not sent to the Land Registry?
If notification of a change of address is not sent to the Land Registry, the Land Registry may send correspondence about an application for registration to the wrong address and the registered proprietor could be unaware of any attempted fraud.
Such correspondence may include a notification that someone is claiming adverse possession, or that an application has been made to register something against the title or that an application has been made to cancel a notice or a restriction. Failure to receive notice of any of these applications will result in the registered owner losing the opportunity to object to such an application, and in some cases, could result in the registered owner losing the land itself.
How Do I Change My Address?
You can apply by downloading the form from the HMLR website www.landregistry.gov.uk/propertyfraud but you will have to supply evidence of your identity, alternatively, contact us and we can help you with the formalities.
Keep an eye on your tenants and make sure they are not trying to sell your property from under you.
You should also review your current property portfolios and, where property is registered, check that the address for service is correct and up to date. You can request up to 3 alternative addresses including email address or an address outside the UK, but you must have at least one postal address.
Where property is unregistered it is also worth considering whether an application for voluntary registration should be made. Not only will you benefit from a reduced fee charged by the Land Registry for registering your land, but registration can also make both the management and any eventual sale of the property more straightforward.
For more information on how we can help, please contact Jane Witek, of the Hughes Paddison property team.