10th November 2021
A BBC investigation recently reported on how a homeowner’s identity was stolen and his property sold without his knowledge, with the thieves pocketing the £131,000 in proceeds from the sale.
Talking to BBC Radio 4’s “Your and Yours” the Reverend Mike Hall explained how he was working away and had been alerted to the fraud by neighbours who contacted him to say that someone was in his house. Rev Hall explained that “I went to the front door, tried my key in the front door, it didn’t work and a man opened the front door to me. I pushed him to one side and got in the property. I really didn’t know what he was doing there. The shock of seeing the house completely stripped of furniture; all furnishings, carpet, curtains, everything was out of the property.”
“We then tried to access the Land Registry documentation online to find out whose name appeared… and it is, in fact, as of 4 August, this man’s name. At that point the police said, ‘Well, there’s nothing further we can do here. This is a civil matter; you need to leave the house and contact your solicitors.’”
I was shocked – having seen the house in the state it was, I was in a bit of a state of shock anyway – but then to be told by the police they didn’t believe a criminal offence had been committed here was just unbelievable.”
Bedfordshire Police’s fraud squad has now begun an investigation.
Rachel Silvester, head of conveyancing at Myers and Co Solicitors in Staffordshire, explains that she and her department are very aware of the potential risks to both home buyers and sellers that the sophisticated modern fraudster can present.
She also outlines the procedures put in place to ensure that Myers and Co clients do not fall victim to these crimes.
“We take every step to check the identities of all of our clients; we meet our clients in person if at all possible, and we ask all new clients for documents to prove their identity, we double-check that identity using an electronic verification service, and we also ask for detailed evidence of funds to make sure that criminal money isn’t being used to the buy the property. If we are acting for clients who are selling their properties, we ask for proof that they actually live there or have access to the property if they do not (if they rent it out for instance).”
Myers and Co Solicitors also have extensive cybercrime and anti-money laundering training in place for all staff, sophisticated information technology to guard against cybercrime, and a dedicated compliance manager to assist fee earners.
There are steps that you can take yourself as a property owner, to make sure that you do not suffer the same fate as Reverend Hall.
If you sign up for the Land Registry’s free Property Alert service, it will allow you monitor a property if it is already registered with HM Land Registry. You can monitor the property of a relative if you wish (you don’t have to own a property to set up an alert), you can choose up to 10 properties to monitor, and you will receive email alerts when there is certain activity on the properties you are monitoring. We recommend that all of our clients subscribe to the service, just to be on the safe side.
You should also take care to make sure that any payments you make to us are secure – read this article from the Law Society about payment diversion fraud.
A Land Registry spokesperson has said:
“Combatting fraud is a key priority for us and over the last five years we have prevented fraud on properties worth over £100m. While fraudulent transactions are rare (average of 0.001% of applications) our state guarantee protects homeowners in the event they are victims of registration fraud.”
“Our specialist counter fraud teams focus on detection, prevention and education, working with professional conveyancers, such as solicitors, who are required to make checks to prevent fraud and money laundering. We are actively encouraging conveyancers to use digital cryptographic ID checking as a more secure means of identifying people.”
Remaining vigilant is key to combatting fraud which is why The Land Registry encourages all homeowners to:
For more information on property fraud advice, contact Rachel Silvester on 01782 577000 or email email@example.com.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.