Title Fraud a Growing Threat to More Than 97% of UK Homes

Title Fraud

Rapidly rising levels of “title fraud” are prompting homeowners in record numbers to register for property alerts with the Land Registry. Alarmingly, research suggests that as many as 97% of homeowners face the threat of their properties being sold illegally, without their consent or their knowledge.

Between 2020 and 2021, the Land Registry recorded a 300% increase in the number of people registering for property alerts. New data published by Third fort based on a Freedom of Information request suggests that title fraud is being taken seriously by more homeowners than ever before.

Even so, the numbers indicate that just 515,000 property owners have so far registered for the service, which is free of charge for all homeowners in England and Wales. This equates to just 2.5% of all property owners across the two countries.

Around 135,000 people registered their homes in 2021, up from 46,000 in 2020.  Meanwhile, 110,000 have signed up so far this year. This leaves 97.5% of properties unregistered for the service or 20.3 million homes.

Speaking on behalf of Third Fort, Olly Thornton-Berry highlighted the extent of the problem.

“Fraud is a huge problem in the UK property market,” he said.

“We’ve seen some alarming instances of fraudsters acquiring ownership of properties using forged documents to impersonate registered owners. Empty properties, tenanted properties and those without a mortgage are particularly at risk.”

The importance of property alerts

Late last year, a homeowner from Luton returned to his property after spending a period of time in Wales on business. Only to find that when he arrived home, somebody had moved into his house, replaced the locks and started to renovate his property.

An investigation conducted by the BBC found that he had fallen victim to identity theft and that his house had been sold fraudulently in his absence.

This represents just one of many instances of title fraud (and attempted title fraud) that take place across England and Wales each year. By signing up for free alerts, it becomes possible to thwart the attempts of fraudsters by receiving a notification the moment suspicious activity is detected.

As explained on Gov.co.uk:

“We will send you an email alert each time there is significant activity on the property you are monitoring, such as if a new mortgage is taken out against it.”

“The alert will tell you the type of activity (such as an application to change the register or a notification that an application may be due), who the applicant is and the date and time it has been received.”

“Not all alert emails will mean fraudulent activity. If you don’t think the alert email is about any suspicious activity, you don’t need to do anything.”

“Signing up to Property Alert won’t automatically stop fraud from happening. You will need to decide if the activity on the property is potentially fraudulent and act quickly if so. The alert email will tell you who to contact.”

Who is eligible for automatic alerts?

The official government page for Land Registry property alerts outlines the following eligibility requirements for the free service:

  • The property you want to monitor must be situated in England or Wales and registered with HM Land Registry
  • You must create a Property Alert account to use the service
  • You will receive an HM Land Registry email (please check your spam inbox) to enable you to verify your email details
  • You must then sign in to your account to add a property
  • Email alerts are sent when official searches and applications are received against a monitored property
  • If you receive an alert about activity that seems suspicious you should take swift action. The alert email will signpost you to whom to contact.
  • You don’t have to own a property to set up an alert
  • The same property can be monitored by different people.
  • Property, especially flats, can be registered with two titles. Blocks of flats are often owned by companies (Freehold), and the person owning the individual flat (Leasehold). When registering for this service please choose Leasehold title for individual flats.
  • You can use the service if you are not online. Call the Property Alert team on 0300 006 0478.

Source: Gov.co.uk