Can your House be Sold Without your Knowledge?James Trafford
Can your house be sold without your knowledge? The short answer is yes!
You may have seen the horror story reported in the news about a property owner who had his home sold and furnishings taken away without his knowledge. The homeowner had his identity stolen while he was away working and was used by fraudsters to sell his house and pocket the money.
The victim of this scam told the BBC of his dismay, “”I went to the front door, tried my key in the front door, it didn’t work and a man opened the front door to me. I pushed him to one side and got in the property. I really didn’t know what he was doing there. The shock of seeing the house completely stripped of furniture; all furnishings, carpet, curtains – everything – was out of the property.”
You may be wondering, along with millions of other people, how on earth is this even possible? Are we not safe in our own homes anymore? Well, it happened, and it isn’t the first time. So, the next obvious question is: what can I do to help prevent this from happening to me?
Fraudsters are probing the land registry’s title register and targeting properties that are wholly owned and mortgage free. Since the onset of the pandemic, as the property market has soared from the “race for space”, fraudsters have increased their activity.
Government statistics shockingly reveal that about 99% of wholly owned homes are not protected by safeguards that are registered at the Land Registry. Simple and straight-forward actions can be taken to help safeguard homeowners against this happening to them.
A free service offered to all homeowners since 2014; you can sign up for alerts from the Land Registry’s anti-fraud “property alert system” to receive notifications when a local authority search is conducted. This is an alarm bell, signalling the owner that their property is being processed for sale. Think about it this way, we have burglar alarms to alert us to a potential break-in of our homes; we can also have alert notifications to alert us that someone might be trying to steal the whole house, using our stolen identity, something that is growing in risk in the digital age.
Many homeowners spend a lot of time and money on home security systems like CCTV, security lighting, and alarms, perhaps even signing up with an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) for external monitoring of their property. And yet, most fail to register for a free service to protect their property that takes only minutes to set up. To date, only about 25% of homeowners have signed up for this free service, which means that about 7.25 million homes in the UK are vulnerable to fraudsters in the same way that was highlighted recently in the news.
The recently highlighted incidence is nothing new, and in the digital age, the risk is even greater than ever. In 2020, the Land Registry was compelled to compensate homeowners to the tune of £3.5 million because of scams, a 60% increase from 2019. A 60% increase in one year is an exponential rise that homeowners can do something about by taking quick and simple steps to safeguard their property.
The good news is that homeowners are protected by a government’s compensation scheme that protects them against financial crime. However, the financial protection does not compensate for the tremendous amount of stress, worry, and inconvenience that is caused when someone is scammed with their property.
Indeed, when the fraud victim mentioned above went to the police, he was taken aback to be notified that it was a civil matter. He was told, “Well, there’s nothing further we can do here. This is a civil matter; you need to leave the house and contact your solicitors. ”
To help raise awareness of the rising crime of “stolen homes,” the Law Society of England and Wales is working in partnership with the National Crime Centre and Action Fraud to issue flyers warning homeowners of the risk of payment diversion fraud.
Fraud with property typically involves fraudsters pretending to be the victim’s solicitor, said the Law Society. The criminals use this deception to divert the fraud victim’s funds into an account that they have set up for this purpose.
“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances. Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals, ” said the Law Society.
“Compensation can be obtained by property scam victims,” said Jamie Johnson, CEO of FJP Investment, ” but financial redress does not remove the shock and heartache that victims are caused by being scammed.” I strongly advise homeowners to sign up for the Land Registry free alert service and also speak with their solicitor about what other protective measures can be taken to protect their property.”