Our House: ‘House hijacking’ highlighted in new ITV drama
ITV has picked up on a very real problem referred to as house hijacking in their new TV programme, Our House. A fraudster who has stolen the identify of an owner of a property and proceeded to sell or refinance the property.
A fraudster is likely to target property where the owner lives overseas or it is rented or the property is empty or does not have a mortgage. Whilst the industry is much more alive to the issue and solicitors firms have responded by enhancing how they on board clients and verify identification and proof of ownership – it is not a problem that will go away any time soon.
Our residential property solicitors advise that there are a few steps an owner can take to protect their property.
An owner can apply to the Land Registry for a free property alert to notify if someone has applied to change the ownership of the property or refinance it, for example. This does not automatically prevent the fraudulent transaction but does bring the potential problem to your attention sooner than finding out by chance or long after the event, which has often been the case.
At the same time, an owner must ensure the address for service ie where third parties should write to get in touch with the owner and which is noted on the title is up to date. All too often, owners refer to the property address as the address for service, which makes it easier for the fraudster to replicate, although the absence of a documentary connection between the ‘owner’ and the property address can be a sign of fraud.
An owner can also register a restriction on the title which requires the owner’s named solicitor to provide a certificate that a transfer or other disposition has been made by the owner. A solicitor will charge for this service but is an effective way to put a buyer’s solicitor on notice that a certificate is required before completion and may prevent a transaction proceeding too far down the line or where monies have passed hands.