A recent Court of Appeal ruling indicates that solicitors acting for fake vendors can no longer hope to pin the blame for a property fraud on other parties in the sale.
No sh*t Sherlock – pardon my French.
What has got under my skin is why the hell something hasn’t been done about this fraud before.
As an agent I have almost been the victim, years ago, of the ‘tenant pretending to be seller’ fraud. It was the first such case I was aware of and happened in the early 80s.
It involved one of Chelsea’s best known agents, a house in London’s most expensive street and a princess – you could have made a film. But not only was the film never made but it seems nothing was learnt.
It’s such a clever sting and preys on some obvious human weaknesses.
Prices are set low to pique a buyer’s greed; agents see an easy fast cash sale; solicitors and agents act within a flimsy, barely fit for purpose, know your client legal framework; and the properties for sale usually appeal to fast acting cash buyers – normally developers or dealers used to asking the bare minimum of questions.
The fraud itself is embarrassing to all concerned so that the vast majority never reach the press and possibly not even the police.
It’s no coincidence that properties thus ‘sold’ are mortgage-free and usually freehold.
There is something you can do, but it’s not foolproof, or mandatory, and possibly indicates why it’s not always advisable to leave the Government in charge of safeguarding your biggest asset.
If you register here https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk, you can set up an email alert to warn you when an official search or application is made against your property. If a property is mortgage free and rented, you should be advising all clients to register immediately.
The reason for my reticence about this as a complete answer is that hacking email addresses isn’t that difficult apparently and the alert service fails to allow you to register a mobile number, and hacking a mobile or SIM card is a whole lot more difficult.
So come on Land Registry, allowing alerts to mobiles is hardly cutting edge but might, after 40 years of such frauds, help bring them to an end – especially if you make it mandatory when a property is registered.
* Ed Mead is co-founder of outsourced viewing service Viewber