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Spanish Property Ownership : Identity Theft is on the Rise

Fri 2th Apr 2010

Identity theft is one of the UK's fastest growing areas of criminal activity. In the first nine months of 2009, over 200 illegal acts of impersonation were recorded everyday, a staggering 36% increase on the same period in 2008.

The problem affects businesses and individuals alike but, despite this public concern, most people, it seems, are still failing to take steps to protect vital information. 22% of people access their bank accounts in internet cafes while 79% of businesses make no effort to destroy sensitive documents that are thrown away or recycled.

Whilst most people would correctly associate identity theft with the banking and finance industries, you might be surprised to learn that the problem has already affected some Spanish property owners – with devastating consequences.

In terms of the impact on victims, this type of crime ranks alongside the application of the Coastal Law (‘Ley de Costas'), illegal building licences, demolition orders and the Valencian ‘Land Grab' law in terms of its severity.

Ian Hawkins, Director of Safe Purchase Spain SL says "Thousands of people across Spain and the islands rent their properties every year. We are told by good lawyers to be careful with the contractual arrangements especially for longer-term lets, but not a lot else.

As a property owner, imagine arriving at your holiday home one day to find it occupied by someone you didn't know who also claimed to be the property's owner.

The increasing trend in identity theft is something that every Spanish property owner should be concerned about."

Recently, in Madrid, dressed in smart clothes and driving expensive cars, fraudsters cruised the suburbs looking for unoccupied houses to let. After entering into an agreement to rent a property, the gang obtained the owner's details from the rental contract. The tenants then advertised the property at below market rates to attract keen property buyers.

As soon as a buyer agreed to buy the property, identity documents (or sometimes fake powers of attorney) were quickly falsified and a visit to the notary organised to affect the sale.

Everybody who has ever visited a notary's office knows that in most cases the notary rarely questions the validity of identity documents, preferring to simply record the important document numbers for the contract.

Finally, the deal was done. The notary issued the deed of sale which was forwarded to the land registry for inscription in the name of the new, legal ‘owner' who, of course, knew nothing of the fraud and, furthermore, had done nothing more than purchase what appeared to be the bargain of a lifetime.

The fraudsters, in the meantime, made off with the proceeds and disappeared. When the real owners returned and discovered what had happened, they naturally looked towards the legal authorities to try to recover their property. Although some courts have nullified fraudulent sales, the bad news for owners is that in some cases, the good faith of the innocent buyer has been valued higher than the rights of the real owners, meaning they never get their property back.

Added Ian, "More importantly, we see that under Spanish law an inscription in the land registry is sometimes considered sacrosanct."

Identity theft is a growing problem and a major challenge. Fortunately, as an existing owner or buyer of property in Spain, you can now take steps to protect yourself against the loss of your property through the fraudulent activities of third parties.

For less than 25 Euros per year, the Safe Purchase Guarantee gives you the highest level of protection currently available in Spain for the next 20 years after you've bought your property.

It includes insurance protection for fraud, identity theft and other important problems that have affected many Spanish property owners in the past.

Concluded Ian, "Peace of mind is important and taking sensible steps now, to ensure you are covered in the future makes sense. The Safe Purchase Guarantee is being taken up by increasing numbers of home owners and represents a major step forward for the Spanish property industry as a whole".

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