Millions of homeowners risk having properties sold from under them

·2 min read
Homeowners are at risk from fraudsters selling their properties without their knowledge
Homeowners are at risk from fraudsters selling their properties without their knowledge

More than 97pc of homeowners are at risk of their properties being sold fraudulently without their knowledge.

The number of people signing up for property alerts with the Land Registry tripled between 2020 and 2021 in response to rising levels of “title fraud”, according to a Freedom of Information request by Thirdfort, a risk management website. Title fraud occurs when a criminal steals the homeowner's identity and changes the property title into another name.

But despite the rise only 515,700 owners have registered for the free service in England and Wales – equivalent to just 2.5pc of all privately owned dwellings.

More than 135,000 people registered their homes for the service in 2021, up from 46,000 in 2020. A further 110,000 have already signed up so far this year.

This means that an estimated 20.3 million owner-occupiers and landlords – 97.5pc of all homeowners – are still vulnerable.

Olly Thornton-Berry, of Thirdfort, said: “Fraud is a huge problem in the UK property market. We’ve seen some alarming instances of fraudsters acquiring ownership of properties using forged documents to impersonate registered owners. Empty properties, tenanted properties and those without a mortgage are particularly at risk.”

In November last year, a man returned from working in Wales to find that someone had moved into his house in Luton, changed the locks and begun renovation works. A BBC investigation found that his identity had been stolen to sell the house – and the fraudster had taken the proceeds.

Thirdfort urged homeowners to sign up to the Land Registry title alert service, which sends email notifications as and when activity searches and applications are made using the monitored address.

Users do not need to own the property themselves to set up alerts. The same property can be monitored by different people.