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What is ‘house hijacking’ and could it mean I lose my house?

I’ve heard about something called ‘house hijacking’. What is it and could it mean that I lose my house? 

Are there any measures that I can take to prevent being caught out by it? KW

Could you lose the property you've bought through a major fraud called 'house hijacking'?

Could you lose the property you’ve bought through a major fraud called ‘house hijacking’?

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: The crime of house hijacking  happens when a property is sold without the owner’s knowledge. 

In some cases, the property is not even sold and the fraudster simply dupes buyers to part with their money. The fraudster runs off with the cash, leaving the would-be buyer without any new asset.

This major type of fraud is potentially financially crippling for both the real buyer or owner of the property.

But there are steps that can be taken by homeowners to help protect their investment in the property and to prevent fraudsters from using their properties as part of a scam. 

Hema Anand, of law firm BDB Pitmans, replies: It seems odd that a house can be hijacked but it is a term used to describe a crime where owners have had their homes or investment properties sold – or ‘hijacked’ – without their knowledge.

Essentially, a fraudster has stolen the identify of an owner of a property and proceeded to sell or refinance the property.

Recent cases involve forged passports, as well as a fraudster changing their name by deed poll to match the property owner’s name.

A fraudster is likely to target a property where the owner lives overseas, or commonly if it is rented or the property is empty or does not have a mortgage.

A rental or empty property gives a fraudster more opportunities to intercept or even redirect the post. The fraudster then changes their own name by deed poll to that of the owner, obtains false ID and presents these documents as proof of ownership required to sell or refinance the property.

'House hijacking' is a crime where owners have had their homes or investment properties sold - or 'hijacked' - without their knowledge

‘House hijacking’ is a crime where owners have had their homes or investment properties sold – or ‘hijacked’ – without their knowledge

The industry is much more aware about the issue, with solicitors firms responding by enhancing how they verify clients’ identification and proof of ownership.

For example, the Law Society amended the protocol most solicitors use to complete the sale of a property.

The protocol places a heavier duty on the seller’s solicitor to essentially confirm they act for the true owner.

The implication being if you do not, and have passed on the proceeds of sale to the fraudster, the solicitor’s firm could possibly be liable for the loss suffered by the buyer.

However, it is not a problem that will go away any time soon and is sadly on the rise.

It is a complicated situation to unravel and there may be other innocent parties such as the buyer – who has acted in good faith – and not just the owner.

Whether or not you lose your home may depend on when you find out the property has been sold, which can come to light sometime after the buyer has moved in and the payment of damages to the real owner may be more appropriate.

If, for example, you find out about the fraud before the sale has completed, the true owner may be able to prevent the sale and keep the property.

The buyer may have paid a deposit – usually 10 per cent of the purchase price – but this has saved them from paying the remaining 90 per cent.

The owner’s recourse will depend on who was at fault and therefore liable. For example, a seller’s solicitors or the Land Registry may be required to pay compensation to the owner.

Court action is generally the last resort. Presenting the evidence to the parties and their advisers may be enough to establish they are the true owner without the need to go to court. 

The fraudster’s solicitors may accept liability without the need to sue the firm. If they do not, the true owner will be strongly advised to instruct solicitors, present proof of ownership and commence an action against the fraudster solicitors and any other party that may also be answerable and/or liable for the fraud. 

If the true owner can establish ownership and this is a fraud then it is unlikely they will lose. There would need to be compelling reasons why the true owner is unsuccessful. 

What action can be taken to stop the fraud?

There are a few steps that an owner can take to protect their property.

An owner can apply to the Land Registry for a free property alert to notify if someone has applied to change the ownership of the property or refinance it, for example.

This does not automatically prevent the fraudulent transaction but does bring the potential problem to your attention sooner than finding out by chance or long after the event, which has often been the case.

STEPS TO TAKE

Here are three steps that homeowners can take to try to prevent the crime of house hijacking: 

• An owner can apply to the Land Registry for a free property alert to notify them if someone has applied to change the ownership of the property

• An owner must ensure the address for service – i.e. where third parties should write to get in touch with the owner – is up to date

• An owner can register a restriction on the title which requires the owner’s named solicitor to provide a certificate that a transfer or other disposition has been made by the owner

At the same time, an owner must ensure the address for service – where third parties should write to get in touch with the owner and which is noted on the title – is up to date.

When you buy property in England, the Land Registry requires an address where legal or formal documents should be sent. This address may not necessarily be the same as the property address.

A solicitor acting for the owner will see this from the title document and can query it – it is another hurdle for a fraudster to explain the other address or if someone suspects some wrongdoing is a way to contact the true owner.

It is fairly straightforward for the owner of a property to obtain a copy of their title from the Land Registry website for a nominal fee. (Check section B to see what address is referred and apply to have this updated, if there is another address you would prefer to use.)

All too often, owners refer to the property address as the address for service, which makes it easier for the fraudster to replicate, although the absence of a documentary connection between the ‘owner’ and the property address can be a sign of fraud.

An owner can also register a restriction on the title, which requires the owner’s named solicitor to provide a certificate that a transfer or other disposition has been made by the owner.

A solicitor will charge for this service but is an effective way to put a buyer’s solicitor on notice that a certificate is required before completion and may prevent a transaction proceeding too far down the line or where monies have passed hands.

The restriction adds another layer of protection for the owner. The transaction cannot proceed without the relevant certificate. The restriction requires the owner to instruct the named solicitor to verify he/she is the true owner by providing the relevant evidence (ID, proof address etc) and if satisfied the solicitor will certify the same and the sale or refinance can proceed.

 If the fraudster tries to use another solicitor this will raise alarm bells. If the solicitor has met or retained ID and is approached by the fraudster they will know they are not one and the same person.

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Would YOU live here? Seaside cottage with stunning coastal views is branded ‘uninhabitable’ and ‘unsafe’ in listing – but is on the market for just £75,000

  • Woodbine Cottage in Ardersier, near Inverness has been put on the market 
  • The four-bedroom home has remarkable views of the Moray Firth 

A seaside cottage with stunning coastal views has been branded ‘uninhabitable’ and ‘unsafe’ in its listing – but has still gone on the market for just £75,000.

Potential buyers of Woodbine Cottage in Ardersier, near Inverness, may get some remarkable views of the Moray Firth, but also face a massive renovation job to make the building fit to live in.

Photos show the interior of the four-bedroom home, which has been vandalised and left littered with old clothes and belongings.

The property will require extensive works throughout, but Auction House Scotland believes it ‘offers a fantastic opportunity to create a stunning family home’.

The house, which includes a garage, has been ‘extensively extended’ to create a total floor area of over 350 sqm – which could be converted into a family home or a rental opportunity.

Woodbine Cottage in Ardersier, near Inverness, comes with a remarkable view of the Moray Firth - but potential buyers face a massive renovation job

Woodbine Cottage in Ardersier, near Inverness, comes with a remarkable view of the Moray Firth – but potential buyers face a massive renovation job

Photos show the interior of the home, which has been vandalised and left littered with old clothes and belongings

Photos show the interior of the home, which has been vandalised and left littered with old clothes and belongings

The seaside cottage has been branded 'uninhabitable' and 'unsafe' in its listing

The seaside cottage has been branded ‘uninhabitable’ and ‘unsafe’ in its listing

The property will require extensive works throughout, but Auction House Scotland believe the house 'offers a fantastic opportunity to create a stunning family home'

The property will require extensive works throughout, but Auction House Scotland believe the house ‘offers a fantastic opportunity to create a stunning family home’

‘The property further offers garden areas to front and rear, with the upper floor balconies enjoying great views over the Moray Firth,’ reads the listing.

‘The property is currently unhabitable, hence no Home Report is available, but a full programme of works would add massive value and offers the opportunity to adapt the current accommodation format subject, of course, to any required permissions/warrants.

‘The potential and value on offer is sure to attract strong levels of demand and, as such, early viewing is essential to avoid missing out.’ 

The original stone built dwelling has been extensively extended with the addition of north and south wings to create a total floor are in excess of 350 sq.

Auction House Scotland believe the property offers a fantastic opportunity to create a ‘stunning family home’ or to be rented out to holidaymakers. 

They also claim that a full programme of works would add ‘massive value’ to the building. 

The stunning view of the Moray Firth seen from the property

The stunning view of the Moray Firth seen from the property 

Auction House Scotland believe the property offers a fantastic opportunity to create a 'stunning family home' or to be rented out to holidaymakers

Auction House Scotland believe the property offers a fantastic opportunity to create a ‘stunning family home’ or to be rented out to holidaymakers

They also claim that a full programme of works would add 'massive value' to the building

They also claim that a full programme of works would add ‘massive value’ to the building

Once renovations are completed, the property will have a council tax band of C.

Mandi Cooper, Managing Director of Auction House Scotland, said: ‘Woodbine Cottage is certainly a project suited to a keen developer or investor, and it deserves to be lovingly renovated back to its former glory.

‘With huge opportunity to add value, and holiday lets in the Highlands being an ever-popular way to generate income, this would also be ideal for serviced accommodation providers.’

Woodbine Cottage will go to auction on May 30 with Auction House Scotland, with a viewing date of May 22

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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