Life is getting easier for criminals who want to transfer property and land to themselves from someone else.
Printed land certificates have been done away with in lieu of Online versions in both Wales and England, making it easier than ever for crooks to alter ownership certificates of land and titles to properties. Too often by the time an owner discovers something is awry, it is too late. The identity theft is finished.
Patrick McCloy, Solicitor, said, “Already this year I have seen four cases cross my desk. This is a significant and expanding problem.”
The first step a crook takes is to alter the address of correspondence, allowing him or her to either sell the property or take out a mortgage on it. Those most vulnerable include homeowners living abroad, the elderly, especially in nursing homes, and absentee landlords. Since these particular types of owners seldom have mortgages they are juicier targets for the criminals.
Simon and Christine Rowntree were shocked when in 2009 they had decided to trade down from their big house in Birmingham to a smaller place. The Land Registry informed them they were in fact not the owners of their home and could not sell it.
“We owned our place completely and without a mortgage,” Christine said. The owner of property in Manchester, Trevor Guy, was victim when others took out a £100million mortgage on his property.
Although Guy went to the court, the court reiterated that he was the owner, but that he was liable for the entire debt of the mortgage.
The website for Land Registry provides advice and the promise to reimburse those who have fallen prey, but without legal guarantee. They indicate that attempts to counter cases of identity theft and fraud have foiled about £20million in damages. In the end, any homeowner must be on their toes.