Anyone who watched the recent ITV drama, Our House, will know the perils of a fraud known as title or registration fraud. In which the fraudster impersonates a home-owner in order to sell their property.
While the storyline of the ITV drama was far-fetched however registration fraud is a real crime and poses a real risk to home-owners.
Imagine returning from a holiday or a long stay away from home to find a new family living in your home. All your treasured belongings are gone and in their place, the new family have made themselves at home. What’s more, there’s nothing you can do about it. They are the new legal owners.
In a recent case that hit the headlines last month, this is exactly what happened to the Reverend Mike Hall, who returned to his home in Luton to find builders in his house who were working for the property’s new owners. He had not sold his house and knew nothing about the fraud until he arrived home.
The ITV drama is adapted from a book by author, Louise Candlish. Part of her inspiration for the book was the real-life case of Penny Hastings, the wife of military historian Sir Max Hastings, who, in 2015, discovered that a property she owned – but did not live in – had been sold without her knowledge. To commit the crime, the fraudster changed their name by deed poll to Penny Hastings so they could gain the necessary identification papers to commit the fraud.
In this instance, staff working at HM Land Registry were suspicious of the £1.35 million cash sale and declined to register it. However, by the time Mrs Hastings became aware of the fraud, the buyer had received the keys, secured planning consent, and booked builders for kitchen renovations.
Fraudsters committing this type of crime favour second homes and investment properties, particularly ones where the owner rarely visits. They then look for a cash-buyer as mortgage lenders will ask too many questions.
Often they will rent the target property first. This allows them to impersonate the owner to estate agents and potential buyers as well as allowing them to intercept the post in the owner’s name.
While victims of registration fraud cannot get their house back, HM Land Registry will pay compensation to the victims of this fraud. In the financial year 2020-21, The Land Registry paid £3.5 million in compensation for 22 claims of registration fraud.
You can take steps to protect your property from being fraudulently sold or mortgaged by signing up to H M Land Registry’s free property alerts service which sends an email to property owners if any activity occurs on their property.
Remember you are more at risk if:
- your identity’s been stolen
- you rent out your property
- you live overseas
- the property is empty
- the property is not mortgaged
- the property is not registered with HM Land Registry
For those who bought their home prior to 1998, your property may not be registered you can check the register if you’re unsure.
If your property is unregistered, a solicitor can register it for you. They will charge you their fees plus the fee from the Land Registry which is on a sliding scale depending on the value of the property.
For a no obligation quote for First Registration, contact Debbie on 01704 532890.