This is partly due to the Land Registration Act, which was introduced in 2002 with the aim of cutting out an old-fashioned paper process. Whilst many of the reforms have been beneficial, an open electronic register has encouraged fraudsters to take advantage of the system.
Empty houses or properties let to tenants are particularly vulnerable. So what can homeowners do to reduce the risks?
- Be careful about identity theft. A seller must produce their identity documents to their solicitor, and if your identity has been stolen, the fraudster simply needs the title number of the property to start the conveyancing process.
- If you rent out a property or own a holiday home, make sure that the Land Registry has your up to date correspondence address, not the address of the property. You can register up to three addresses with the Land Registry including an email address.
- If you do not live at the property, you can register a ‘restriction’ against the title. This means that no sale or re-mortgage of the property is to be registered without a certificate signed by a conveyancer, who is satisfied that the person who executed the document is the actual owner.
- Sign up to the Land Registry's free Property Alert service. You will receive an email if anyone attempts to deal with your Property Title.
- Be alert if you receive any correspondence purporting to be from an agent or a solicitor relating to the sale of your property. Do not assume it is simply a mistake and ignore it. Contact the sender to find out why they are writing to you.
For more information, please contact David Marsden in our Commercial Property team on 01923 919 303.