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The image of an house block in north Wales.

Luton clergyman falls victim to property fraud

Cases

April 12, 2024

A man returns home to find his house sold without his knowledge.

Luton Reverend Mike Hall, who moved away from his property to work in north Wales, was targeted by fraudsters who managed to sell his house without his knowledge.

Prompted by vigilant neighbours noticing unusual activity, Mr Hall drove to Luton to find construction work underway and new owners confidently asserting their rights on the property, which was sold to them a few weeks earlier.

 

"I went to the front door and tried to use my key, but it didn't work. A man opened the front door to me instead" - he told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours.

"I pushed him to one side and got in the property. I really didn't know what he was doing there (…) the shock of seeing the house completely stripped of furniture was overwhelming; all furnishings, carpet, curtains - everything - was out of the property."

 

The “mysterious” man said he was there just to do building work, leading Mr Hall to immediately contact the police.

The builder left and returned with the new owner's father, who said he had bought the terraced house in July, inviting Mr. Hall to leave his home if he did not want to be reported for trespassing.

 

"This is now my property, and you are trespassing. Get out."

 

Unmasking identity impersonation

A BBC investigation found Mr Hall's identity had been stolen and used to sell the house and bank the proceeds.

When Mr Hall tried to clear things out by accessing the Land Registry documentation online, to his shock, as of 4 August, his name had been removed in favour of the new owner’s.

Despite the severity of the situation, the initial police response labelled it as a civil matter, meaning that there was nothing more they could do to help the reverend get his property back, and advised Mr Hall to contact his solicitors instead.

"I was shocked - having seen the house in the state it was, I was in a bit of a state of shock anyway - but then to be told by the police they didn't believe a criminal offence had been committed here was just unbelievable."

 

The BBC put Mr Hall in touch with Bedfordshire Police's fraud squad, which has begun an investigation. A spokeswoman then declared there had been no arrests.

Shortly after, You and Yours managed to obtain the driving licence used to impersonate Mr Hall, details of a bank account set up in his name to receive the proceeds of the sale, and phone recordings of the house being stolen.

 

The perils of title fraud

Without raising any suspicion, fraudsters have managed to sell the house on Zoopla, impersonating genuine estate agents by setting up a fake site and references.

Using Mike Hall’s name fraudsters set up a bogus company, which in England and Wales remarkably requires no verification and takes. a matter of minutes.

  

Furthermore, Zoopla grants a “grace period” for new real estate companies joining the platform, in which no proof of being registered to a government-authorised scheme is required for 30 days.

Quite shockingly, even government-authorised schemes for estate agents, such as the Property Redress Scheme (PRS), do not perform any kind of individual checks on new members, thus making life very easy for experienced fraudsters trying to sell stolen homes.

Exploiting these systemic gaps in regulations, once the house was sold to the new owners for £131,000 by the person impersonating Mr Hall, they legally owned it.

 

The solicitors involved in the property transaction said there was an ongoing police investigation and that it was inappropriate to comment further.

"We will continue to co-operate with the police, and comply with our professional obligations," said the firm,which the BBC has chosen not to name.  

Click here to listen to the full story

 

Guarding Your Property

The case underscores the persistent threat posed by title fraud and identity impersonation to homeowners. Despite Land Registry's efforts and collaboration with professionals, instances of fraudulent transactions continue to disrupt innocent lives annually in the UK.

To protect your property from such risks,consider seeking assistance from reputable experts like Title Guardian.

 

Conclusion

The unfortunate experience of Reverend Mike Hall serves as a stark reminder of the perilous world of property fraud.

The ordeal of title fraud and identity impersonation can be traumatic for homeowners, underscoring the need for proactive measures.

Engaging specialists can empower you to protect your property and secure your peace of mind by preventing any attempts at title fraud.

In this case, Title Guardian would have stopped the fraud in its tracks.

Once the property had been listed on Zoopla, our monitoring platform would have alerted Mike Hall to the activity, then again once his name had been used to set up the bogus company.

Empower yourself against the threats of title fraud and identity impersonation. Act now to safeguard your property with the assistance of Title Guardian.

 

Protect your property now