Where’s my house?

Toby was relating how his friend had been watching a TV drama called Our House.  His Friend Said that the storyline including the house theft had made the plot seem rather far-fetched.  His Friend Said he couldn’t believe it was possible to have your home taken from right under your nose and exclaimed at the impossibility of this ever happening.

Mia’s Friend Said that she was still continuing to piece together how her home was being sold without her knowledge.  And this was no TV Drama.  Her friend had been a victim of attempted title theft and this caused her untold upset and distress.  Mia’s Friend Said that having your home stolen was not implausible and described her shock when she found out that that her property was being sold without her knowledge.  She was lucky enough to act swiftly and instruct a solicitor to place a restriction on the property before it completed.  

“Title theft” is a term unknown just a generation ago but thieves really can “steal” our homes.

Title theft, also known as deed theft, deed fraud, or house stealing, often occurs when the title to a property is obtained illegally without an owner’s consent.  During this process, criminals transfer a property’s title to another party without the owner’s knowledge or approval.

A forged deed or mortgage can have a very real and often devastating impact on the owner.  The forger can sometimes deceive a third party into “buying” the property.

In Mia’s friend’s case, the buyer had some reservations about the seller and had approached contacts of Mia’s in order to make more enquiries.  One of these contacts had called and informed her that her property was being sold and to contact the police and her solicitor.

Mia’s friend said that she was horrified to find that the fraudsters were known to her.

Unfortunately, title theft perpetrators are not only anonymous criminals on the internet. An owner’s family, friends, or caretakers may take advantage of opportunities to steal a property title.

Toby and Mia decided to do some research on this subject.

Am I at risk of property fraud?

Anyone who owns a home, or is in the process of buying a home, could be targeted by scammers.

How is a property title stolen?

Theft often happens at critical parts of sales and refinance transactions, which provide opportunities for criminals to transfer ownership to a different party. Here are some common ways that home title theft occurs:

Mortgage Refinance Theft: A criminal assumes the identity of the owner, refinances a homeowner’s mortgage without their knowledge, cashes out the equity on the property, and then steals the difference. 

Scammers which target you as you are about to complete the purchase or sale of a property, whereby fraudsters intercept funds or get you to unwittingly transfer funds into their bank accounts by pretending it’s your conveyancer’s account

Your property is more at risk if :

it is left empty

it is rented out

you live overseas

it does not have a mortgage against it

your identity has been stolen

Fraudsters often target vacant properties and properties that are mortgage free.  In this title theft case, a thief targets an empty home, such as an unoccupied rental property or vacation home. The thief acquires the property title by forging a deed and selling the property without the homeowner’s knowledge and transferring your property into their own name using false documents.

the property is not registered with HM Land Registry

Your property will be registered if you bought it or mortgaged it since 1998 – check the register if you’re unsure.

What you can do to protect yourself from the different types of property fraud

Toby and Mia found out that you can take steps to protect your property from being fraudulently sold or mortgaged.

First of all, check your property is registered with the Land Registry. There is a £3 charge. If you find any information on the register is incorrect, you must let the Land Registry know. Properties most likely to be unregistered are those that haven’t been mortgaged or sold since 1990.

If you think you might be at risk of property fraud, the first thing you should do is to sign up to the Land Registry Property Alert service.

Track changes to the register

You can sign up to get property alerts if someone applies to change the register of your property, for example if someone tries to use your property for a mortgage.

Alerts are sent to you via email when official searches and applications are received against the property you want monitored.

So, for example, if someone tries to make changes to a property you have registered – such as applying to change the registered owner of your property or if someone makes an application to register a mortgage on your property – a notification is sent to you via email.

It won’t automatically block any changes to the register but it will tell you what is happening so you can take appropriate action if necessary.

You can get alerts for up to 10 properties – there’s no fee.

Put a restriction on your property

You can safeguard your property further by applying to put a restriction on the title deeds of your property. This stops the Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you.

You can stop HM Land Registry registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies the application was made by you.

Your conveyancer or solicitor may charge you for providing a certificate if one is required by a restriction on your property.

Think it can’t happen to you?

Just ask those who have had this done to them and received no help from the police when they reported it or those who have been too ashamed to report that it has happened or even those who were tipped off that it was in process of so happening.   Mia’s friend said that she had felt that her distress had been met with disbelief because not many people understand the loophole in the current system.  The fraudsters know how to exploit it and as Mia’s friend said, she was the one who felt that she was being criminalised when she was trying to explain this to the police and an unsympathetic friend.  Mia’s Friend Said that Land Registry had placed a restriction on the Title Deed within two days because they were alerted by both herself and her solicitor about the attempted fraud.  But in most cases a restriction can take several months and so it’s best to have something in place if you fall into the more at risk categories that have already been mentioned.

Don’t let this happen to you and best not always listen to what an unknowledgeable Friend Says.

Mia Pirelli, 13th April 2022

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