Laylah Scarlett De Cruz, who resides in Dubai, and her mother Diane Jean Moorcorft were both found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud on Monday 16th January 2017 at Southwark Crown Court.
They had conspired with others to rent a property in Kensington, London using fraudulent documents. Once the tenancy has been obtained, Ms Moorcroft changed her name by deed poll to that of the registered proprietor of the £3 million home. The owner of the house was in fact deceased. Moorcorft then travelled to Dubai and opened bank accounts in the deceased registered proprietor's name.
Whilst this was occurring Ms De Cruz arranged for the sale of the property, but before a buyer was found, the pair applied for a loan of £1.2 million against the property from a bridging loan company. This money was forwarded to their solicitors who in turn transferred it to the Dubai accounts that had been set up by Moorcroft.
A few days later, The Land Registry informed the solicitor and the bridging loan company that they suspected it was a fraudulent transaction. However, by this time the monies had already been withdrawn from the Dubai account. The proceeds of this fraud have never been recovered.
The Land Registry plays an important role in property transactions and preventing fraud. Part of their role is to check that the person registering the title is the true owner of the property. It seems in this instance that Moorcroft managed to convince the solicitor she was the true owner and signed documents to this effect. Lenders rely heavily on information provided by the Land Registry when deciding whether or not to accept a mortgage application.
Since 2009 the Land Registry has prevented property fraud amounting to approximately £92 million. This is an astounding figure but they do acknowledge that 'no system is 100% fraud proof' and urge people to do what they can to protect their properties.
Between April 2015 and March 2016 the metropolitan police received 1,029 reports of rental fraud, to the value of nearly £2.5 million.
Alasdair Lewis, Director of Legal Services at HM Land Registry, urges people to be vigilant and emphasises the importance of keeping contact details up to date at the Land Registry and signing up to the free Property Alert service.
It may well be that you do not live at the targeted address, therefore, it is of great importance to keep your contact details up to date with the Land Registry as they will need the correct details to contact you if there is any suspicious activity. You can have up to 3 addresses in the register and this is useful if you have multiple properties.
If you subsequently let or sell a property, make sure that all post is re-directed. You do not want personal information getting into the wrong hands.
If you are concerned that you may be a victim of property fraud you can contact the Land Registry Fraud Line. You can speak to professionally trained staff for practical guidance. Their telephone number is 0300 006 7030 or you can report via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to the recent cases, we as legal professionals may require you, as our client, to provide us with additional evidence of your right to deal with the property.
As fraud and identity theft are becoming more and more common in everyday life, Clapham and Collinge have put together some guidance on reducing your risk.
Protecting yourself from Fraud:
- Keep your personal information safe. This includes things like PIN numbers, bank account numbers, national insurance numbers etc. Always shred documents with any personal date on them – don't just throw them in the bin.
- Do not give your personal information to anyone (name, address, bank details, email of phone number) to organisations before checking their credentials.
- Protect your signature – a common way for fraudsters to obtain your signature is to pose as a delivery person and asks you to sign for a leaflet.
- Keep safe online. Remember to regularly update your passwords and make them as complex as you can remember. Do not use obvious passwords such as your name or simply 'password', this makes you easy pickings for fraudsters.
- Be suspicious of 'cold callers'. It could be phone calls or someone turning up on your doorstep to try and sell you goods where you have not asked them to make contact. If you are unsure, politely tell them that you are not interested and close the door or put the phone down. Try not to get drawn into a conversation with them as this is tactic that they use to try and persuade you to do something you may otherwise not.
- If you have lost or had card/cheque books stolen, immediately report this to your banking provider.
- Check your bank account regularly for suspicious payments
- REMEMBER, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
If you need Property Law advice our dedicated Property Solicitors are on hand to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Brooke and Sheringham offices.