You would imagine that stealing an entire house would be a pretty tricky thing to carry off. However, a man from Luton was shocked to return to his house and find it had been sold to a new owner without his knowledge.
The Reverend Mike Hall returned home from a work trip in North Wales to find his home of 30 years had been ‘stolen’ by fraudsters and sold for £131,000 to a new owner. The first he knew of the transaction was when his front door key wouldn’t work.
According to a BBC report, Mike Hall returned to his home in Luton when his neighbours called saying someone was in the house. When he arrived his key wouldn’t work and a stranger answered the front door.
Mike phoned the police, but the builder returned with the new owner’s father who said he had bought the terraced house in July.
To settle the dispute Mike Hall looked up the Land Registry documentation but found that the name had been changed in August.
‘At that point the police said, ‘Well, there’s nothing further we can do here. This is a civil matter; you need to leave the house and contact your solicitors,’ Mike told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours.
‘I was shocked – having seen the house in the state it was, I was in a bit of a state of shock anyway – but then to be told by the police they didn’t believe a criminal offence had been committed here was just unbelievable,’ he added.
The BBC allege that a duplicate driving licence and bank account were set up in the name of Mike Hall and used to sell the house. When the house was sold to the new owner by the person impersonating Mr Hall, they now legally owned it.
After being contacted by the BBC, the Bedfordshire Police’s fraud squad has begun an investigation into the case, but no arrests have been made.
How common are fraudulent house transactions?
This isn’t an isolated case of fraud being used to try and steal a whole house. Last year the Land Registry paid out a total of £3.5 million in compensation for fraud.
However, the Land Registry told Ideal Home that fraudulent transactions are still relatively rare accounting for 0.001 per cent of applications.
‘Combatting fraud is a key priority for us and over the last 5 years we have prevented fraud on properties worth over £100m,’ says the Land Registry.
‘Our specialist counter fraud teams focus on detection, prevention and education. They work with professional conveyancers, such as solicitors, who are required to make checks to prevent fraud and money laundering.
‘We are actively encouraging conveyancers to use digital cryptographic ID checking as a more secure means of identifying people.’
What can you do to prevent your house from being stolen?
‘Some homeowners are more at risk than others,’ Angela Kerr, Director at HomeOwners Alliance told Ideal Home. ‘Your property is more vulnerable to fraud if it is empty, rented out, does not have a mortgage against it or is not registered with the Land Registry.’
Angela advises that the first thing you should do is check your property is registered with the Land Registry. If it is you should then set up a Land Registry Property Alert.
‘Alerts are sent to you via email when official searches and applications are received against the property you want to be monitored,’ explains Angela. ‘It won’t automatically block any changes to the register but it will tell you what is happening so you can take appropriate action if necessary.’