Imagine a fraudster for a moment. Did you picture a shifty looking character lurking in the shadows of a dodgy pub, or an impossibly suave gent in a sharp suit preying on wealthy individuals?
But how do you go about stealing a property from under someone’s nose? After all, it’s hardly something you can pop in a swag bag and slope off into the sunset with?
What types of fraud could I fall foul of?
There are a few potential frauds that can impact property owners, which landlords are particularly at risk from.
The first is the raising of a mortgage against your property.
Despite the recent tightening of data management regulation with the introduction of GDPR, it is still frighteningly simple to access huge amounts of information online, meaning it is not too tricky for a clever fraudster to apply for a mortgage on your property once they have moved in.
In most cases, the first that you will know about this is when the debt collectors come knocking, long after the sneaky tenant has hotfooted it with the wodge of ill-gotten cash, leaving you with a fresh debt run up against your investment.
If you have previously lived in the property, and still have bills posted there in your name, you are also at risk of your tenant taking our personal loans or credit cards in your name. Not only could this leave you with a huge bill to pay, but could potentially leave you with a smear on your credit rating that will stay with you for years, and could have an impact on your ability to borrow in the future.
Believe it or not, this is not the worst-case scenario though.
Although you could find yourself facing a huge new debt, you will at least still own the property. In the very worst cases, there is evidence of some fraudsters even managing to sell the property out from underneath their landlords entirely.
There is evidence of super sneaky tenants moving into a property and behaving like the model tenant -paying rent and generally doing everything that you would expect of a tenant. However, once a resident of the property, it can be frighteningly simple for a dodgy dealer to pose as the owner (rather than the tenant) and make moves to sell the property.
There are plenty of steps in place to prevent this from being possible, from the estate agent to the solicitor, but in some cases, there is evidence of a string of dodgy dealers involved, all working towards to the end goal – swiping your property from underneath you.
This all sounds really scary! How can I protect myself from losing my property?
Firstly, don’t panic. Not every tenant that you meet is going to be a potential fraudster! Whilst you should always employ a sensible amount of caution with every letting situation, don’t talk yourself out of letting your property ‘just in case’!
There are a few tricks that you can employ to help safeguard your property as much as possible, and remember, if something feels a bit fishy, maybe it is worth a little extra investigation…
Luckily, steps have been taken in order to stop property fraud in its tracks. The Land Registry is a fraudster’s dream if not managed property, but this issue has become such a concern that the registry has applied changes to the system that you can apply to your property to provide a first layer of defence.
You can sign up for property alerts for 10 properties on the register – and it’s absolutely free. This means you receive an alert, via text message and/or email, if someone applies to change the register of the property. For example, if someone tries to apply for a mortgage using our property as collateral or make any other changes.
Whilst this option won’t stop the change, it will alert you, and allow you to take action – you’ll have to move fast, but you’ll have the opportunity to stop a potential issue before it escalates.
If you want to be absolutely sure that nothing can happen without your express permission, you could go one step further and apply a restriction to your property. You can only do this to a property that you own, but it ensures that no sale of mortgage can be processed on the property without a conveyancer or solicitors certifying the application has been made by you. If you don’t live at the property or are a business owning a property (a landlord, for example) this is a free service, if you live at the property (it is your main residence) there is a fee of £40.
You can download the required forms to apply for a restriction here:
- Business owners:
- Landlords (of if you don’t live at the property):
- Your primary residence:
HM Land Registry Citizen Centre
PO Box 74
In order to protect yourself personally, make sure that you have put a postal redirect on to all post arriving at the property. Whilst it is a criminal offence to tamper with another person’s post, it is unlikely that a fraudster will be overly concerned with this and you may find that a combination of seemingly innocent junk mail, utility bills and the information you have provided within your role as a landlord is enough to provide the details to clone your identity – be alert and do all you can to protect yourself.
What do I do if these changes don’t work!
If you find yourself a victim of property fraud, or believe that your property is at risk, contact the HM Land Registry property fraud line:
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