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Identity Theft in Property Transactions

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The Land Registry has for some years enabled the public to obtain details of the names and addresses of the owners of a property by giving access to a particular properties register.  The register will also show if there is a mortgage on the property. Access to these details is cheap and easy to obtain.  This has lead in recent years to an increase in identity theft in property transactions resulting in properties being sold and the proceeds of sale often being transferred abroad before the true owner of the property discovers that this has happened. The buyer does not get title to the property and risks losing everything whilst the true owner of the property is likely to incur considerable inconvenience and expense in resolving the situation.  Both Seller and Buyer are affected.

Although many of the cases reported in the press have involved properties in London and the South East all parts of the country are vulnerable.  The type of properties that seem to be most attractive to fraudsters are those that are either empty or tenanted and without a mortgage secured upon them.  This means that landlords or those having to leave a property empty for some time need to be particularly alert.  Also elderly people who may need to leave their home to be cared for elsewhere may also be vulnerable.

It is sensible for any person who owns a property but does not occupy it themselves to consider if the risk of identity theft in relation to their property can be reduced.  The owner of the property should keep their contact address at the Land Registry up to date and consider providing the Land Registry a second address. The owner should also consider registering a notice at the Land Registry which requires a certificate by a solicitor to confirm that the identity of a seller has been checked.  Although this notice in itself may not prevent a fraud the existence of the notice at the Land Registry may put off the fraudster from targeting the property.

As a buyer you are particularly vulnerable as your solicitor has no contact with the seller and the legal profession are not necessarily in a position to spot false identity documents.   If the property is empty you should notify your solicitor and consider speaking to a neighbor who may be able to give you the contact details of the true owner.