Land Registry cuts online deeds over fraud fears


By Hilary Osborne ( Guardian )

The Land Registry has removed scanned mortgage documents from its website on November 5 2007 following concerns they may
have been used by fraudsters.

Over the past two years, the department has paid out £12m in compensation to cover losses caused by criminal gangs through
fraud and forgery, with one case alone resulting in an £8m payout.

Some of these scams have made use of copies of mortgage deeds and leases, which since January 2005 have been scanned and made available on the Land Register Online website.

The site is aimed at prospective buyers and sellers and their solicitors who can download title deeds and information on a property for a fee of £3.

One common scam involved criminals looking for unmortgaged properties, then using the homeowners’ details to take out a mortgage before pocketing the cash.

The first the homeowners knew about the fraud was when they received letters notifying them of defaults on the loan repayments.

More audacious schemes have even involved fraudsters using details to sell properties without
their owners’ knowledge.

A spokeswoman for the Land Registry, Marion Shelley, said the department had recently received evidence that its site was involved in such scams.

Ms Shelley said the information online was also available by post, but “we can’t keep track of who has requested the information via the site”.

She said removing scanned mortgage deeds and leases from the site would reduce access by criminals, but determined fraudsters could still fill in forms and apply for details by post.

“It’s a bit like burglary – you can turn your house into Fort Knox, but a determined burglar will always find a way in,” she added.

Mike Westcott-Rudd, head of corporate legal services for the Land Registry, said the department was 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”.

Mr Westcott-Rudd said people could be confident their property ownership was being safeguarded by the state, and that any losses as a result of fraud would be fully compensated.