Some simple steps for property owners who can risk falling victim to fraud

Prettys solicitor Neil Ford

Conveyancing solicitor Neil Ford of Prettys law firm in Ipswich - Credit: Stillview Photography

A few years ago a mother and daughter duped professionals into enabling a fraudulent application for a £1.2m bridging loan on a house in Kensington, London.

The pair – Laylah De Cruz and Diane Moorcroft – impersonated the registered proprietor, a 91-year-old woman who was not living at the property.

The case highlighted the problem of property fraud which can occur when a criminal pretends to be anyone involved in a property transaction such as the owner, buyer, borrower, lender or conveyancer. It also emphasised how easy it could be for a fraudster to successfully adopt a false identity and convince others they are the true owner.

The properties at greater risk are those occupied by tenants, those that are empty, those with no mortgage. Properties that have not been registered with the Land Registry are also considered to be at additional risk.

In the case of De Cruz and Moorcroft the deception included Moorcroft changing her name by deed poll to open bank accounts in the real owner’s name. 

The fraud was picked up with both women receiving jail sentences. But less than £2,500 of the £1.2m stolen was ever recovered.

There are some simple steps you can take to help detect fraudulent activity aimed at your property. It’s important to make sure your property is registered with the Land Registry, your contact details are up to date and you sign up for the Land Registry’s Property Alert Service. This is a free property monitoring service for any registered property in England or Wales. The service allows you to monitor up to 10 properties at a time and you don’t need to own them – you can also monitor property belonging to another, such as a vulnerable relative.

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Once you have registered, the Land Registry will send an email alert each time there is significant activity on any property you monitor. The alert will specify the type of activity, the identity of the applicant and the date and time the application was received. Once alerted you will then have the opportunity to take immediate action that could prevent the fraud going unnoticed.

If you own a property that is not yet registered at the Land Registry you should consider applying for voluntary first registration of title.

Neil Ford is a conveyancing solicitor at Prettys law firm in Ipswich