Residential Property specialist, Victoria Cranwell, highlights the importance of signing up to HM Land Registry’s Property Alert service to help protect your home from identity theft.
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A recent and well publicised case highlights the importance of taking a free, quick and simple step to protect your home from fraudsters.
The facts of the case
The Reverend Mike Hall was working away in North Wales when he received a call from a neighbour in Luton to say that somebody was in his home. Mr Hall, who had owned the house for 30 years, returned the following morning to discover the locks had been changed, his furniture and possessions were gone, and a builder was carrying out renovation work. He called the police, who initially told him it was a civil matter and no criminal offence had been committed.
In the meantime, the builder summoned a gentleman who told Mr Hall that his son had purchased the property in July 2021.
Inquiries quickly revealed that this was a case of identity theft. Fraudsters had obtained a duplicate driving licence and opened a bank account in Mr Hall’s name, which they had then used to sell the house. Land Registry documents show the new buyer as the registered owner of Mr Hall’s now-former home, which means they legally own the property.
Understandably, the case has generated considerable publicity and Bedfordshire Police are now investigating the matter.
Conveyancing ID check
When selling a property, your conveyancing solicitor is under a duty to verify your identity. Solicitors failing to follow procedures to properly identify a client can unintentionally assist in the commission of financial crime. This is regarded as a serious breach of professional conduct by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The circumstances in the case of Mr Hall’s property are unknown, although fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Land Registry Property Alert
Last year we highlighted a very straightforward and free step you can take to protect your home from fraudulent activity. HM Land Registry’s Property Alert service covers any registered property situated in England or Wales, which means more than 85% of properties are eligible. Following a simple online sign-up and verification process, up to ten properties can be monitored, which means you can also protect buy-to-let and holiday homes. In addition, as you do not have to be the property owner, you can set up alerts for others, perhaps an elderly relative.
Once you have registered a property, you will automatically receive an email alert as soon as the Land Registry receive an official search or application relating to it. Should you receive an alert regarding activity that seems suspicious, you must act quickly, and the Land Registry’s email will advise you who to contact.