Properties (usually residential) are being targeted by fraudsters and offered for sale without the consent or knowledge of the genuine owners. Sadly, some of these are elderly and vulnerable persons.
The properties targeted for vendor fraud may be offered for general sale, but in some cases, there are already buyers in place who are also part of the fraud. Solicitors are being approached to carry out conveyancing work on behalf of the fake sellers, who often use forged and altered documents or stolen identities. Fraudsters are also infiltrating solicitors’ firms as employees using fake or stolen identities to carry out such activities, as well as purchasing law firms to support this type of criminality.
While in some instances it may be the work of rogue individuals, indications are that this type of activity may have links to serious and organised crime groups.
Red flags to be aware of:
- The price of the property is not market value – for example, being offered significantly over or undervalue
- The client is reluctant or unable to provide documents
- I.D. documents do not look genuine – for example, the differing typeface on passports or driving licenses
- Pressure to complete the transaction very quickly – for example within a few days
- The client instructing minimal work be done – for example, no searches requested
- Complex or unusual circumstances around the transaction
- Cash property purchases
- Funds coming from or going to unconnected third parties.
By carry out property conveyancing work on behalf of sellers or buyers, you may be exposed to the risk of this type of activity. This makes it even more important to identify and check the suitability of employees and supervise their work. If there are any concerns about a member of staff carrying out work which you know or suspect may be linked to fraudulent activity, the appropriate law enforcement authorities must be notified.
Any concerns over a solicitor or any of their employees, report these to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.