Reports of conveyancing fraud continue to rise and overseas owners of UK property should take steps to protect their assets.    

Increasing numbers of cyber criminals are making moves on the property market, with empty homes being especially vulnerable. 

Landlords and those living overseas are most at risk and are being encouraged to take steps to protect assets.  Also being targeted are properties that are mortgage-free or those not yet registered with the Land Registry and still relying on paper deeds.

The tactics of the fraudsters have been played out in a number of high profile cases over recent months.  Tenants often pose as owners, putting the property on the market and taking the sale proceeds or by creating a fake identity to access mortgage funds.

In one case a woman changed her name by deed poll and then posed as the owner of a vacant £3 million London townhouse.   Her new identity was completed with a fake passport and a resident’s permit for Dubai, which helped her obtain a £1.2 million bridging loan, secured against the house, and successfully have the money transferred out of the country to Dubai, although she was later caught and prosecuted.

Cyber-criminals have also hacked into email exchanges on legitimate property transactions, apparently by using technology that scans through millions of emails to identify data patterns that may reference valuable financial transaction information.  Once the relevant email account has been hacked, the fraudsters send scam emails instructing the transfer of funds.  Buyers may be duped into believing the message is from their solicitor, or solicitors believing it is from their client.

Any property sale will involve the Land Registry and they may help identity fraud – but much relies on property owners, or their agents, registering for updates or placing restrictions on the properties.   This can be done online, by using the Land Registry’s services to lock or track their property assets; the process is simple, and most actions can be done online in a few minutes, such as:

Track changes:  Up to 10 properties can be tracked by one user, using the Land Registry’s Property Alert service.   Once registered, an email alert is sent when activity takes place on the monitored property, for example if a mortgage application is made, or an application is made for transfer of ownership.

Restriction: This is the next level of protection, and will stop any activity on a property, unless your appointed lawyer confirms the application was made by you. It works by completing a simple form, countersigned by the authorised lawyer acting on your behalf, who would be contacted in the case of any sale or transfer.  Where an owner is living at the property there is a Land Registry fee of £40; for owners not living at the property and owning the property either privately or as a company, there is no fee.  

Registration: Some property which has not changed hands since 1990 may not yet have been registered with the Land Registry, and the title deeds may still be paper-based.  In this case, it can be worth instructing a solicitor to register the title with the Land Registry.  While the original documents will be returned, it establishes proof of ownership and opens the door to register for the online tracking services.  Although there will be a legal cost, it will speed up and reduce fees on any later sale.

Online services with the Land Registry can be used to check if your property is currently registered and to keep contact details up-to-date, covering both postal and email addresses.


If you would like help checking on your property and signing up for services, let your Life Porter know. 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.