Barnstaple conveyancing solicitors Slee Blackwell look at the rising threat of house hijacking.
House hijacking is becoming a worry for UK homeowners, particularly after it was featured in an ITV drama starring Downton Abbey’s Tuppence Middleton and Line of Duty’s Martin Compston.
It is a form of property fraud that involves a house or flat being sold without the owner’s knowledge.
The modus operandi of the fraudsters varies, but can involve the ‘seller’ legally changing their name to match the homeowner’s name and acquiring false ID documentation.
Properties that are left vacant are frequently targeted, along with properties that have been rented out. This type of fraud is also more common when the property is not subject to a mortgage or is not at HM Land Registry.
Solicitors like ourselves have a role to play in avoiding house hijacking an we have a duty to carry out checks to satisfy ourselves that we are acting for the true owner or a genuine purchaser. If a solicitor fails to do so then they can find themselves becoming legally liable for losses suffered by the victims of fraud.
However, solicitor’s checks will not always identify potential fraud, and when an owner or unsuspecting buyer do lose out then the onus may fall upon HM Land Registry to provide compensation.
property owners can also do their bit to avoid fraud, especially if they are in one of the at-risk categories mentioned above.
One of the easiest and most effective steps is to apply to HM Land Registry for a free property alert. This will notify them if someone is applying to change the ownership of the property or refinance and acts as an early warning sign,
Another option is for the owner to register a restriction on the title that requires their named solicitor to certify that the transfer was made by the owner. Until that certificate is provided the transaction cannot be registered, so it is a good additional layer of protection.