Protecting Your Title Deed
Property fraud is becoming an increasingly common problem in the UK and elsewhere. While it seems hard to imagine that someone could – quite literally – steal your home out from under you, it happens in extreme cases. A stolen identity, for example, can allow a fraudster to make changes to your title deed and claim your property. They can even sell it to an unsuspecting buyer.
How can you protect yourself?
5 Ways to Protect Your Title Deed and Property
1. Register Your Property ASAP
The UK has required that properties be registered since 1990, so chances are that yours already is. If you owned it prior to that, please check the Land Registry to see if it is registered. If not, do so without delay. This is a vital step in recording ownership. While it cannot stop property fraud, without that evidence, you will have a harder time providing you are the rightful owner.
2. Sign Up for the Land Registry Property Alert Service
This is a great service from the Land Registry, and it provides another layer of protection. When you sign up for the Property Alert Service, the Land Registry will notify you via email if there are searches or applications against your property. For example, if someone tries to change the registered owner or register a mortgage, they will alert you. It may be you – but it may be a fraudster. The Land Registry does not block changes, but it does make you aware of anything that is occurring. If it is a fraud, you can take fast action.
3. Apply for a Restriction on Your Property
Another step you can take to protect yourself and your property from fraud is to put a restriction on your title deed. With this in place, the Land Registry will not register a sale or mortgage unless a conveyancer or solicitor certifies that you made the application. If you currently live at the property, this costs £40. Compared to the cost of fraud, of risking your home, this is a very small fee.
4. Protect Your Identity
We hear it often enough, but we also often neglect basic steps to protect your identity from theft. If your identity is compromised, it makes it easier for scammers to target your property. So what can you do? Some easy steps:
● Shred any documents that have your financial information or identifying information, such as bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills, correspondence with HM Revenue & Customs etc.
● Keep your receipts. Do you know when you get your receipt at a restaurant and just crumple it and leave it on the table? Don’t do that. Take it with you and if you do not need it, shred it.
● Make sure you have different passwords for every online account. Yes, it’s a pain to remember these, but it can keep you safer as you navigate the internet. Choose strong passwords that are not easily guessed.
● Password protect your devices.
● Review your credit reports regularly. You are entitled to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Take the time to look through it, scouring for errors.
● Install antivirus software to stay safe online.
● Install two-factor authentication on important accounts (e.g. bank).
5. Be Email Smart
You know the drill: Do not open emails from suspicious or unknown senders, and certainly, NEVER click on a link contained in those emails should you open them. For a hacker, this allows direct access to your device and potentially very sensitive information.
Email-based property scams are very common and becoming more so. Some of the more savvy criminals, for example, will intercept emails from solicitors to their clients. One unlucky house buyer had £640,000 stolen when hackers intercepted emails to their solicitor. They just had to copy the layout and format of the email, switch the bank details and enjoy £640,000 of ill-gotten funds into their own account. It is very difficult to recover from a crime like this in terms of recouping the lost money – and lost opportunity.
Always have your solicitor send important details in both post and email, and be sure to double and triple-check that account numbers are accurate.
Property fraud is a very real problem, and it can have significant consequences for victims. Protect yourself.