It sounds impossible but it’s true: if you have more than one property then it may be possible for fraudsters to steal your identity and make a sale in your name.

The Land Registry provides a degree of financial cover for this, but it’s certainly not a situation you want to find yourself in if you can help it. We’ve put together this article to explain how this crime can occur, and how best to protect yourself against it.

Can someone else sell my property?

You might have heard about a recent case involving Mike Hall, a vicar from Luton, who was away from home working in North Wales. Hall returned to his Luton property to discover that the locks had been changed and it had been fraudulently sold under his name to an unsuspecting homebuyer, using Hall’s driving license and a fake bank account. The property is now listed under the new owner’s name by the Land Registry and the house still legally belongs to the new owner (at least until the police are finished investigating), even though it was sold to them by fraudsters.

So the short answer is: yes, someone else can sell your property, without you even knowing it. Fortunately, however, it’s very unlikely to happen to a property you’re living in, but if you own a spare property which is sitting empty then a very determined fraudster could theoretically sell it under your name. This is much easier for them if you have an ‘unencumbered’ property, meaning one that is not tangled up in any mortgages or other financial claims that would make selling it more complicated.

How can I stop my identity being stolen?

The Land Registry offers a free ‘Property Alert Service’ for people worried that their registered properties could be vulnerable to this kind of fraud. Launched in 2014, the service currently only covers about a quarter of a million UK homes. However, it could be a lifesaver.

Users of the service will be notified via email about any local authority checks performed on their property, which usually indicates that a conveyancer is getting ready to sell it. If the owner doesn’t recognise the check, it will be flagged as fraud. You can register up to 10 properties, and multiple people can monitor the same property if you share ownership with other people.

You can sign up by creating an account on the Land Registry website or by phoning 0300 006 0478.

What to do if you think someone is impersonating you…

If you think somebody has stolen your identity, you should contact Action Fraud, the UK’s fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, either online or by telephone on 0300 123 2040

If you think somebody has set up a fake bank account in your name, get in touch with your bank immediately so that they can investigate the issue and shut the account down.

Remember to be extremely careful with your personal details and who you give them to, particularly online and over the phone. Read our article Types of scam and how to avoid them so you know what to watch out for.

Have you ever heard of something like this happening before? Do you have any identity theft horror stories to share? Join the money discussion on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.


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