Empty properties are at a much higher risk of being susceptible to property fraud. Fraudsters will often take advantage of the fact that a property is unoccupied and may use forged identity documents to alter the ownership of the property and to take control of the ownership of it. The occurrence of this type of fraud has been rising.
In a recent case, a fraudster took control of a property and sold it on to an unsuspecting buyer. The real owner, who did not reside at the property, only became aware of what was happening when neighbours alerted them to the works of alteration that were being carried out to the premises, by which time the fraudster was nowhere to be found.
As more of us may be away from business properties whilst staff are working from home or have been required to cease to trade these empty properties may become targets for the criminals. If you have had to leave a property empty during the lockdown, or if you own a residential property but do not live in it, it is advisable that you take action to minimise your risk of property fraud.
There are a number of simple steps that can be taken to protect your property.
You can register at the Land Registry a Form LL anti-fraud restriction on the title of the property if you think you could be at risk. This means that you can stop HM Land Registry registering a sale or mortgage on your property unless a solicitor or conveyancer certifies that the application has actually been made by you. You can apply to enter into a restriction whether you own the property privately or in a business name.
If the property is registered, you can sign up with the Land Registry to be alerted if someone applies to change the register of your property, for example, if someone tries to use your property fraudulently for a mortgage.
This service will not block any changes to the register, but it will alert you if something does change so that you can take action. You can get alerts for up to 10 properties and there is no fee.
You should also make sure that the Land Registry has up to date contact details recorded for you and the property.
If the property is unregistered apply for the title to be registered at the Land Registry.