A new guide to help property owners avoid property title fraud, where ownership can be stolen, has been released.
The scam happens when a fraudster changes the registered details of a building to pose as its owner.
The fraudster then applies for a mortgage or sells the property to an unwitting buyer and disappears with the proceeds.
In the financial year 2020/21 HM Land Registry received 22 claims for indemnity in relation to property title fraud and paid out £3.5m worth of compensation for these claims.
People who own houses that are standing empty are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud, as are properties which have a high value, are not mortgaged, or whose owners have recently died.
The guide gives people who own a property, or who are thinking of buying one, four steps to take to protect themselves from this type of fraud.
*Ensure your property is registered with HM Land Registry. This creates an official record that can be checked by anyone who needs to confirm your ownership and gives extra legal protections. You can apply for voluntary registration if your property is not already registered.
*Keep your registered details up to date in case HM Land Registry need to send you official letters or notices, which could be early signs of fraud.
*Sign up to HM Land Registry’s free online property alert service, which will give an immediate notification if someone tries to change the register for your property.
*If you are at particular risk of property fraud, you can apply for a restriction on your title so a conveyancer will need to formally certify any sale.
David Clarke, chair of the Fraud Advisory Panel, said: “Property title frauds are rare, but can have a terrible impact on victims and result in them losing their homes.
“By taking the simple steps outlined in this guide homeowners can take steps to protect themselves from property title fraud. “
Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of this scam should report it to Action Fraud or HM Land Registry.”
The three organisations urge anyone who thinks they’re the victim of property title fraud to report it immediately by going to www.actionfraud.police.uk or emailing email@example.com.