The expression ‘safe as houses’ has been used for almost two centuries to describe something that is rock-solid and risk-free.

But thanks to the elaborate efforts of a small but growing number of fraudsters, not even property is as safe as you think.

Since the pandemic, there’s been a steady increase in what’s known as Title Fraud or House Hijacking. This crime involves an elaborate ruse where a fraudster poses as the homeowner (after knocking up fake ID and documents) and sells it to an unwitting buyer.

Often, the scammer targets cash buyers (to avoid scrutiny from lenders) and markets the property at a knockdown price (to push the sale through quickly). They may also ‘encourage’ the buyer to use a specific conveyancer (who is part of the con).

If the fraudster evades all the usual checks and balances that are supposed to flag illegal activity, they make off with a large sum of cash.

When the genuine owner of the property and the ‘new buyer’ realise what’s happened, they face a lengthy legal process to sort the mess out.

Who is most at risk?

Fraudsters target mortgage-free properties that are empty or tenanted. If the property is vacant, it’s easier to arrange viewings without being detected. There have also been cases where a tenant has posed as the owner and put the property on the market.

Protect your property

To safeguard against such events, HM Land Registry is urging property owners to sign up to its free alert service. It only takes a few minutes, and then you will be notified if anyone attempts to change the register for your property.

If you’re a landlord – especially if you don’t live near your property or spend lots of time abroad – do it today.

You can also put a restriction on your title that prevents a sale or mortgage on the property being registered unless a solicitor has certified that you – the rightful owner – made the application.

A further step is to get a letting agent to manage your property and act as an extra pair of eyes on the ground. A letting agent will also conduct regular inspections to ensure nothing suspicious is going on.