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Land and buildings are usually the most valuable assets you can own. However, since they can be sold and mortgaged to raise money, they can also be attractive targets for fraudsters who could try to forge documents to transfer land or property into their own name or even impersonate the registered owner.

Although the Land Registry, professional conveyancers and mortgage lenders all have safeguards in place against fraud, it is important that property owners do what they to protect their ownership and guard against becoming victims of fraud.

Anyone owning an interest in property is a potential victim but there are a number of situations which could leave you especially vulnerable:

  • where a relationship has broken down
  • where a property is empty or has been bought to let
  • where the owner is abroad or doesn’t live in the property
  • where the owner is either infirm or has moved to a nursing home
  • where the property no longer has a mortgage.

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent fraud or forgery and it is advisable to take professional advice from a solicitor or professional conveyancer first.

They may advise you to register your property with the Land Registry if you have not already done so, make sure your details in the register are up to date and consider putting a restriction on your title.

Registering with the Land Registry provides an up-to-date and official record of ownership, giving you greater security. You may also be eligible for compensation from the Land Registry if you suffer a financial loss because of fraud.

However, if you don't keep your details in the register current, you may not receive notifications from Land Registry which could help to prevent a fraud. You are able to provide up to three different addresses, including an email address and an address abroad.

Restrictions are also an important way of reducing the risk of property fraud. If you or your conveyancer think that you are particularly at risk, you could apply for the entry of a restriction on your title. This is simply an entry in the land register that limits the powers of a registered owner of the land to deal with or dispose of the land. In this instance, the Land Registry will not register any dealing with your property, e.g. a transfer or a mortgage, unless a solicitor or other professional conveyancer has certified that they have checked the identity of the person who has signed the deed.  As a general rule of thumb, as a property owner always be careful what you sign and take legal advice to make sure you and your property are properly protected.

For more information please contact Louise Heafield-Smith at Lawson-West on 0116 212 1000.