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Land Registry acts against property fraudsters

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by Gill Montia

The Land Registry has removed all scanned mortgage documents from its website because of concerns they may have been used by fraudsters.

Since January 2005, copies of mortgage deeds and leases have been made available on the Land Register Online website, allowing prospective buyers and sellers and their legal agents to download title deeds for a fee of £3.

However, since the system has been in place, the Land Registry has paid out £12 million in compensation, with one claim alone amounting to £8 million.

The payments have been made to cover losses caused by criminal gangs involved in fraud.

Typically, fraudsters have used the website to track down properties unincumbered by a mortgage and have then use the homeowner’s details to take out a mortgage.

The criminals pocket the cash and victims are usually unaware of the fraud until they receive letters notifying them of defaults on the loan.

In some cases, details from the website have been used to sell properties without their owners’ knowledge.

The online information is also available by post and although this method does allow a degree of monitoring, determined fraudsters can still fill in forms and apply for property details.

According to Mike Westcott-Rudd, head of corporate legal services for the Land Registry, the department is trying to “strike a balance between on the one hand making the system accessible” and “on the other hand ensuring that appropriate safeguards are written into the system”.

He has, however, reassured property owners that any losses resulting from information supplied by the Land Registry are fully compensated.

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News posted: November 6, 2007

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