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Drive to protect homes from fraudsters

Shropshire homeowners are being urged to take a simple step that will protect them from having their properties sold out from under them by fraudsters.

A service provided by the Land Registry, which keeps the national record of title to land, can require a solicitor to certify a homeowner's identity before a sale can go ahead – a move that should stop conmen in their tracks.

The Registry has now announced that the service is being offered for free to absent property owners. The fraudulent sale of properties is a particular problem for empty homes, where the owner may be away for a long time, possibly abroad or in care.

Rachael Hughes, managing partner at PCB Solicitors, which has six offices in Shropshire, as well as branches in Knighton and Worcester, explained: “Where such large sums as the value of a property are concerned, fraudsters can be very sophisticated in their efforts to con all parties into believing they are the true owner and have the right to sell the property in question.

“Any homeowner can achieve peace of mind on this issue by doing what is known as 'registering a restriction' with the Land Registry that will force the vendor's solicitor to certify that the seller is who they say they are. This extra step adds much greater security to the process and it is an opportunity homeowner's should consider taking up, particularly those who are absent for long periods, who can now do so for free. Even for owner-occupiers, the fee is only £50 to register."

Latest figures from the Land Registry show that since 2009 it has prevented frauds in over 100 applications, related to properties worth a total of more than £47m.

But the problem still exists. In 2010 alone, 23 of the 71 claims the Registry paid out for fraud and forgery involved properties with an absent owner.

Mrs Hughes added: “In tough economic times we often see fraudsters becoming increasingly bold and inventive. Any measure that can stop them in their tracks is something to be welcomed."

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