Property Theft

People might be forgiven for thinking that it is impossible for their home or commercial property to be stolen. However, whilst still relatively uncommon, property theft by fraudsters is a genuine risk. In this article, Bartons’ Chairman, Raymond Hayes, explores how fraudsters can carry out property theft, the people who are most at risk and how people can protect themselves.

The Move From Deeds and Physical Title Certificates to Digital Records

Historically, people held the deeds for their house as proof of their ownership of their land and property. They might store these with their solicitors or bank for safekeeping. This brought with it its own risks and disadvantages and throughout the 20th Century there was a move to a centralised register of property ownership held by the Land Registry. The Land Registry issued property owners with a physical certificates proving their ownership of their land and property. All property which has been bought or mortgaged since 1998 is registered at the Land Registry.

In 2003 the Land Registry “dematerialised” title, meaning that physical certificates were abolished and replaced with a purely digital record. That digital record can be inspected online by anyone for a small fee. As a result, it is possible to discover the legal owner of any given property in a matter of minutes.

How Can A Property Be Stolen?

In simple terms, if a fraudster has access to the details of the genuine legal owner of a property, it is possible for them to impersonate the genuine owner and use the standard form transfer forms to transfer the property to themselves or another person.

We came across one case of a valuable property in South Devon where the title had been changed and another case in Manchester some 10 years ago. In both cases, action was taken before the fraudster could deal with the property and so the owner avoided significant loss. There was a degree of publicity around that time and our, Raymond Hayes was interviewed by The Times and ITN.

Which Properties Are Most At Risk?

You are more at risk of this form of property theft if:

  • your identity has been stolen
  • you rent out your property
  • you live overseas
  • your property is empty
  • the property is not mortgaged

40% of properties in the UK are unmortgaged and nearly 20% are rented out. UK property ownership by overseas persons is increasingly common. Accordingly, many properties are at risk of this kind of fraud.

How Can People Protect Themselves

To protect against this kind of fraud, we recommend that people buying without a mortgage or who are likely to pay off their mortgage should do the following:

  1. Obtain a form LL restriction (or in the case of a company a form RQ(Co)) which would prevent the property being disposed of without your solicitor signing a certificate that the solicitor is satisfied that you have executed the document and were entitled to do so; and
  2. That you sign up to the Land Registry “Property Alert” Service which is a property monitoring service. Once you have signed up to the service, you will receive email alerts when certain activity occurs on your monitored properties, allowing you to take action if necessary. Please visit for more information.

These actions operate more like a burglar alarm than a fool proof defence however as with a burglar alarm, a fraudster is more likely to move on to another title than to overcome the restriction registered in the proprietorship register of the title.

For more help in this respect please contact :

Claire Reynolds

Nicola Edgcombe

Kristy Giles

Roseanna McNally

Raymond Hayes