“Everyone is a target”: Channel Five consumer affairs show exposes the everyday risk of a home being stolen and reveals huge surge in property fraud

Property ownership is a cornerstone of financial stability for millions of people, yet the threat of property fraud remains largely underestimated. On Wednesday 28th February, Channel Five’s ‘Scams: Don’t Get Caught Out’ exposed the risks homeowners can face and revealed a staggering 84% rise of digitally-driven fraud targeting the property sector as recently as 2022. Stuart Forsdike, advisor at Title Guardian and founding partner at PCS Legal, joined host Alexis Conran to delve into the mechanics of this crime and highlight his work with Title Guardian to provide a much-needed proactive solution to protect homeowners.

Throughout the programme, Conran shed light on the multifaceted nature of identity theft and digital fraud, with Forsdike explaining the devastating threat of title deed fraud. This sophisticated digital crime, involving identity theft, can result in the theft and illicit sale of properties, leaving legitimate owners vulnerable and blindsided.

“Fraudsters target your property due to its value. They only need one successful hit to accrue an asset that’s large in value,” remarked Forsdike.

He underscored that scammers exploit various circumstances, including properties not yet registered with Land Registry, vacant properties, and those rented out. But ultimately, there is a threat to any homeowner: “Everyone is a target because anyone can have their ID defrauded, therefore anyone can impersonate being a seller,” he cautioned.

A fraudster may be a rogue tenant or have no connection to a target address. The name, address and mortgage status of a property owner is easily available via HM Land Registry for a nominal fee.  Leveraging this information, they can clone the owner’s identity documents to illegitimately transfer property ownership. Once in control, they can sell the property, take out loans, or leverage it for their own financial gain – all without the legitimate owner’s knowledge until after the crime has been committed.

In a stark warning to landlords, Forsdike explained the simplicity of cloning someone’s identity, highlighting the vulnerability of owners who rent out property. He emphasised the ease with which a tenant could assume the identity of a landlord by changing their name via Deed Poll, exploiting legal loopholes to perpetrate fraudulent transactions.

“If a landlord lets out a property, there is nothing to stop their tenant going to a lawyer and changing their name officially by deed poll. They would then have a new passport, new driving licence, bank statements, utility bills sent to that property address in their new name, which is the same as the landlord. At this point they can walk into a law firm, pass ID checks, they could go to a selling agent, put the property on the market and effectively sell it.

It’s possible because there are no ways to restrict this happening”.

Details currently recorded at Land Registry lack critical information such as photographic facial recognition, date of birth, or other identifying markers, providing ample opportunities for exploitation. Currently hundreds of thousands of properties in the UK are not even registered in the correct person’s name.

There were equally stark warnings around the fallout after a title fraud occurs and a property has been stolen, a scenario not covered by standard building and contents home insurance policies. “The absolute worst case scenario is that you own a property that, on the face of it, is absolutely perfect but if it doesn’t have the right class of title, you may not have the right type of insurance to go with that property, which means you may not get your property back or any compensation” Forsdike concluded. The need for homeowners to safeguard their most valuable asset has never been more urgent.

As referenced on the programme, to combat these evolving threats, solutions like Title Guardian are essential to provide extra protection. Title Guardian leverages advanced technology to monitor thousands of digital sources, including sales and letting portals, HM Land Registry, and Companies House, where property owners’ details appear and fraudulent activities begin. It provides real-time alerts via SMS, email, and app notification to homeowners, empowering them to thwart potential fraud attempts before irreparable damage occurs.

HM Land Registry also offers basic safety measures, but with limitations. Their property alert email service notifies homeowners of title deed changes – a helpful warning. However, these alerts come late in the process, often after the property sale, leaving owners to deal with the aftermath of the fraud.

In the wake of the eye-opening revelations from ‘Scams: Don’t Get Caught Out,’ homeowners are encouraged to take proactive steps to safeguard their property. Whether through subscription-based services like Title Guardian or by seeking expert guidance, homeowners can mitigate the risks posed by property fraud and protect their most valuable investments.

For more information on property-related fraud protection and Title Guardian’s innovative solutions, visit www.titleguardian.com

To watch the show, visit https://www.channel5.com/show/scams-don-t-get-caught-out/season-2/87e6f2ac-807e-4bfc-a546-abcc65159f5c Season 2: Episode 4, or Download My5

Featured Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.

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