Property fraud on the increase
Criminals are taking advantage of online communications and identity fraud to steal millions of pounds through bogus property transactions in the UK, with around £25 million per year stolen through one scam alone.
‘Property hijacking’ involves fraudsters taking out a tenancy in a home, then changing their name by deed poll to the name of its legitimate owner and selling or mortgaging the property.
For example, in 2014, a model named Laylah De Cruz and her mother, Dianne Moorcroft, conspired to defraud the buyer of a £3 million London home. Ms Moorcroft rented out the four-bedroom property in Kensington, West London, then changed her name by deed poll to ‘Margaret Gwenllian Richards’, the true owner of the house.
With a new passport in this name, Ms Moorcroft secured a £1.2 million bridging loan against the property, sending the money to Dubai where it was withdrawn before the fraud was uncovered by the Land Registry.
Eventually, Laylah De Cruz received a jail sentence of five years and her mother three years.
Landlords are advised to sign up for a free alert service offered by the Land Registry where they receive an email message whenever there are certain kinds of activity relating to their properties, such as an application to change ownership details.
A second scam, also on the rise, is known as ‘Friday afternoon fraud’. Criminals intercept large transfer involved in a property sale on a Friday afternoon, confident that their activity will go undetected until the following week. As a report in The Financial Times notes: ‘Those most at risk are owners with empty properties or those with rented properties.
‘Face to face meetings are key to uncovering a potential property fraud,’ said Detective Constable Richard Kirk of the Metropolitan Police.