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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 16:27 GMT
ID checks to fight property fraud
Computer keyboard
The Land Registry website was changed last year due to fraud fears
New identity checks are to be introduced to safeguard homeowners against property fraud.

The Land Registry says there is a growing number of cases of fraudsters transferring property ownership into their names.

It has prompted the publication of two new guides for the public with advice on how to avoid getting caught out.

More identity checks are being brought in from 3 March for some transfers, leases and mortgage applications.

The Land Registry says that land and buildings are attractive to fraudsters because they can be sold and mortgaged to raise large amounts of money.

A spokeswoman said that cases of property fraud were on the rise, although there was also a much greater awareness of identity fraud across the board.

Family affair

Traditionally, cases have often come after a domestic relationship breakdown, but the growth of electronic transactions means "professional" fraudsters are getting in on the act.

The Land Registry says that the risk is still highest following a divorce, when a property is empty or bought to let, when the owner is abroad or absent, or when the owner is infirm or in a home.

From 3 March, the Land Registry will demand evidence of identity when an application - from parties not legally represented - is made to register a transfer, a lease, a mortgage or the discharge of a mortgage in paper form.

Two guides offer tips on how property and land owners can protect themselves.

The advice includes ensuring they are on the basic register, which also means compensation can be claimed from the Land Registry if the owner is the victim of a fraud.

Some 12m of compensation was paid out in the two financial years from 2005 to 2007.

Another tip is ensuring the "address for service" details are up to date. Up to three addresses can be registered, and are intended as addresses for letters to be sent if the owner does not live at the property they own.

Fraud fears

In November, the Land Registry removed online versions of scanned mortgage deeds and leases amid fears that they were being accessed by fraudsters.

The Land Register Online website was set up in 2005 aimed at making the home buying process quicker and more transparent.

But fears were first raised on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours radio programme, and following a three-month review various documents were no longer accessible online.

There has also been a wide-ranging review of opportunities for identity thieves since the loss of HM Revenue and Customs computer disks containing details of 25 million child benefit recipients.

The Land Registry property database is the largest in the world, listing more than 21 million titles from England and Wales.

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