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Protect yourself against property fraud

This article is for general information only. Property law is a highly specialised area and you should only act or refrain from acting after receiving full professional advice on the facts of your particular case. This article is for general information and does not constitute investment advice. Always consult an IFA.

HM Land Registry Properties Alert service www.propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk allows anyone (not just the owner) to register for email alerts if there is any dealing or proposed dealing with a property. This allows anyone with an interest in a property to be instantly informed. The principal reason for the facility is to prevent property fraud, though it is useful in other circumstances, some of which are set out below.

An example of a specific activity is someone trying to register a mortgage, or change the ownership of the property. The service is free.

Buy to let property owners who live abroad

Landlords who live abroad are particularly vulnerable to their tenants posing as the owner of the property and either selling the property fraudulently, or fraudulently obtaining mortgage finance on it. A landlord living abroad may not be aware of a “for sale” sign outside their property or the property being marketed in the local paper. This is why registering for the Land Registry Properties Alerts is strongly advisable for them.

Spouses involved in divorce proceedings

Cross border divorces are also high risk situations. Typically one of the spouses, after purchasing a property jointly in England, moves out of the marital home and back to his or her country of origin. The spouse remaining in England attempts to sell the property through fraudulent means and defraud their ex-spouse from their rightful share of the proceeds of sale. Similarly, if the property was bought in one spouse’s name with the other spouse moving abroad the remaining spouse is able to sell the property. An email alert from the Land Registry gives the recipient a chance of taking some action before the house is sold.

Executors of a deceased person’s estate

It is likely that executors of a deceased person’s estate will have a vacant property to sell. Often the deceased’s property will be empty for some time whilst the probate procedures are dealt with and the Land Registry will continue to show the deceased as the owner. The risk is that a fraudster gains access to the empty property and sells it pretending to be the deceased. The executors should register for the alerts to notify them of any searches against the property and of applications the Land Registry receives. Again the risks become much higher if the executors live some distance from the property or live abroad.

Beneficiaries of the estate of deceased family or friends

Beneficiaries of a deceased estate are also advised to use the Land Registry Properties Alerts service. Executors of an estate can be dismissive of beneficiaries enquiring about the stage of a probate and therefore information may not always be given promptly. Beneficiaries may also share interest in a property with other beneficiaries they do not know or trust. In order to ensure they are not cheated out of their share or payment of an inheritance and that it is not delayed, it is sensible that they register for this service. Once registered the Land Registry will email them alerts each time there is significant activity.

December 2016

David Anderson