When you think of falling for a scam, you may think of being duped to hand over personal information or make payments. But some fraudsters are targeting one of your most valuable assets – your home.
Someone stealing your home can seem impossible, and worryingly, you may not notice until it’s too late. According to figures from the HomeOwners Alliance, Land Registry has paid out £3.5 million in compensation fraud. While incredibly rare, accounting for just 0.001% of transactions in the UK, someone being able to steal your home is a scary thought.
The fraud is known as “property title fraud”.
Identity theft is more often associated with scammers taking out credit cards or loans in their victim’s name. However, in this case, they use it to obtain the title of your property. Once they have done that, they can then change the name on the property title to their own. This allows them to take out loans that are secured against your home or even sell it.
Even when a property scam is spotted, it’s not always straightforward to correct the problem. The case could even go to a Lands Tribunal to decide who rightfully owns the property. It can understandably cause a lot of stress and potentially money to correct.
While property fraud can occur with any property, it’s more likely if you don’t live in it. So, if you have a holiday home, second home, or buy-to-let property, these can be attractive to scammers. Properties that don’t have a mortgage against it or that are not registered with the Land Registry are also more likely to be targeted.
If you are the victim of a property scam, you should report it to Land Registry and the police.
Land Registry is where homeowners register the ownership of land and property in England and Wales. You can check the register and see what information is held for your property for £3. This can give you peace of mind that your home is registered to you if you have any suspicions that fraudsters have targeted you.
The Land Registry also offers a Property Alert service. This will send you an email when official searches or applications are received against your property. You won’t be able to block any changes, but it means you can act straight away if something happens. You can monitor up to 10 properties free of charge.
If you’re concerned about the risk of someone stealing your property, you can restrict the title deeds of it. This would mean that the Land Registry cannot register a sale or mortgage on the property unless a solicitor certifies that you made the application. You will need to pay a £40 fee to restrict the title deeds and you may also need to pay solicitor fees when you want to make changes.
You don’t have to live in the property to take this step, so it can be useful if you own a second home or buy-to-let property.
Property title fraud is usually linked to identity theft, so keeping your personal information safe is key. Cifas, an organisation that works to reduce fraud, found that over the five years from 2014, identity fraud increased by 35% in the UK. This type of fraud also accounts for the majority (61%) of all cases recorded on the National Fraud Database.
Taking steps to make sure your personal information is safe, such as using strong passwords and changing them regularly, can prevent scammers from obtaining the information they need to impersonate you.
Scammers are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to secure your information, and it can be difficult to spot communication from a fraudster.
Using phishing emails or calling from a number that is spoofed can lead to you thinking the communication is coming from a genuine organisation, such as your bank.
If you receive any unsolicited communication, including texts, emails and phone calls, be cautious. If you’re unsure, take a step back and contact the organisation directly. Remember, you should not share your password or sensitive information with anyone.
As well as protecting your digital information, you should also keep physical documents secure. Throwing away documents that contain information like your address and bank account details can give scammers the details they need to impersonate you.
Shredding important documents before you throw them away, and keeping those in your house in a secure place, can reduce the risk of identity theft occurring.
Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.