Government Counter Fraud Awards: protecting people from property fraud

22-11-2018

Case study one: HM Land Registries

Excellence in Raising Fraud Awareness

Property has become an increasingly lucrative and attractive target for fraud, with the amount of fraud prevented on the rise.

Battling this fraud can be difficult as people pose to be the legitimate seller of the property often by pretending they have powers of attorney, or sometimes legally changing their name.

It can also be costly. A state backed guarantee in title means any compensation as a result of property fraud is ultimately being paid out by the taxpayer.

As the gatekeepers to the register, HM Land Registry (HMLR) is tasked with protecting 24.8 million titles, and in turn, billions in property around the UK.

Awareness is half the battle

To combat fraud HMLR launched Property Alert in 2014 to allow owners to better monitor their properties.

After signing onto the service, any applications to HMLR to change the register or request an official search is flagged up to the registered owner with an email alert.

“Once they are notified owners can judge if the activity is suspicious, and act if they feel they may be the victims of fraud,” says Mike Harlow, HMLR’s General Counsel.

"If for example, the registered owner were to see a bank lodge a search on their property without them having applied for a mortgage, they could then contact us.”

To raise awareness of the service, in 2016/17 the counter fraud team launched a comprehensive, integrated marketing campaign.

They highlighted how property fraud occurs, who is most at risk, and provided clear ‘calls to action’ on how citizens can reduce their risk of property fraud.

“It was a challenge as we mostly work B2B, so don’t have a lot of direct contact with citizens themselves,” Harlow says.

“Around 98% of our transactions come through a professional channel, so we are talking with lawyers and conveyancers.”

Thinking outside the box

However the counter fraud team turned what could have been a weakness, their lack of direct contact with citizens, into a strength.

“Rather than targeting citizens directly through direct advertising, which can be expensive, we targeted our customers and associated umbrella organisations,” says Mr Harlow.

“We asked these groups to pass on our advice to their clients, who they already have trusted relationships with, and as a result were able to hand out almost 70,000 leaflets.”

Working closely with communication experts they got their counter fraud message out through videos, web content, infographics for social media, and direct emails.

HMLR’s counter fraud specialists also did presentations and webinars to support law enforcement’s response to property fraud.

Power of the media

While a Property Alert press release achieved 22 pieces of coverage from local press, showing clear interest in the area, it was by actively engaging with the media they received their best outcomes.

A feature with BBC One on property fraud saw a 95 fold increase in traffic to the property alert page, while a front page feature and podcast with Financial Times led to a 15 fold rise in traffic.

The team also used national press, trade titles and solicitor websites, social media, and magazine articles targeting pensioners, who may not be online, to ensure they were reaching their audiences.

Making an impact on property fraud

During the campaign period nearly 52,000 new Property Alert accounts were created, exceeding their target by over 70%, and tripling the performance of previous years.

As a result 100,000 more houses are better protected against fraud, which based on the average house price of £200,000, is an estimated £20bn worth of property assets.

For the team, winning the award validated the efforts they and others in HMLR had made, and provided an opportunity to share their story even further.

“Property Alert ensures the public know how to recognise and deal with property related fraud as it is happening,” says Harlow.

“By having a coordinated marketing and communications campaign we have been able to make a massive impact, and strengthen our ability to fight fraud.”

Since 2009 HMLR’s specialist fraud team have ensured the integrity of the Land Register by preventing 279 fraudulent registrations with a combined property value of £133.4m.

Don't forget to get your nomination in before they close on Friday 30 November.

This case study was originally published in Public Finance on 12 November 2018.