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Property fraud highlighted

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A BBC You and Yours investigation has highlighted a case of property fraud of the type to which landlords can be particularly vulnerable.

Mike Hall, a clergyman, had been living away from home in Wales. Alerted by neighbours, he drove to see what was going on at the house he owned in Luton. He found building work under way and a new owner, who said he had bought the house. He was shocked to see that the house had been completely stripped of furniture, carpets, and curtains.

‘Hall’s identity had been stolen and used to sell the house and bank the proceeds’, said the BBC.

Hall checked with Land Registry and found the £131,000 house was indeed in a new owner’s name.

He contacted the police but was told it was a civil matter and was advised to consult a solicitor. The BBC subsequently contacted the Bedfordshire Police fraud squad on Hall’s behalf, and a police investigation has now begun.

You and Yours said it had obtained the driving licence used to impersonate Hall, details of a bank account set up in his name to receive the proceeds of the sale, and phone recordings of the house being stolen.

The solicitors involved in the property transaction said as there was a now police investigation it was inappropriate to comment.

According to the BBC, Land Registry paid out £3.5m in compensation for fraud last year. ‘We work with professional conveyancers, such as solicitors, and rely on them and the checks that they make to spot fraudulent attempts to impersonate property owners’, said a spokesperson. ‘Despite our efforts, every year we do register a very small number of fraudulent transactions’.

Land Registry also said that since 2009 it had prevented 254 fraudulent applications being registered, representing properties valued in excess of £117m.

In fact Land Registry has a Property Alert service to help protect property owners from fraud.

Users can monitor up to ten properties and receive email alerts of ‘significant activity’ such as registration of a new mortgage.

‘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.

‘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’.

Property fraud is where fraudsters try to ‘steal’ your property, most commonly by pretending to be you and selling or mortgaging your property without your knowledge.