No one cares and we will pay
As a property specialist, our firm is likely to be the one to thwart property fraud. I had not realised how little anyone else cared until I tried to report a property crime today. Through a vigilant estate agent, we found out that someone is pretending to be our client, who spends a lot of time abroad and who does not have a mortgage.
The fake seller (through a fake estate agent) had agreed a sale of our client’s property and, having instructed a solicitor, sent contract papers out to a buyer (who unwittingly tipped off the friendly estate agent). We placed a restriction on the title to protect our client and contacted the Land Registry, which confirmed that someone had recently obtained office copies of our client’s title.
While the registry was helpful, I was surprised that it did not have a specialist fraud investigation team or any contact with a specialist department in the police. Nevertheless, I contacted the police and spent over two hours giving: a full statement; contact details; information about how such transactions/frauds are conducted; and ideas of how the fake seller could be apprehended.
I watch CSI and other crime dramas so I was confident the fake seller could be apprehended and brought to justice (probably within a hour or less, with time for adverts).
Joking apart, the reality was that the police were not interested unless it was the buyer who reported this, as our client was not the victim. Ludicrously, it matters not that someone was trying to steal our client’s £2m house, but the only victim would be the buyer who was likely to lose their money.
I was also told that the buyer would have to report this from scratch. I pointed out that he was probably just going to cut his losses and move on, and when I asked what would happen if it was tried again, I was told that the new buyer should then report it. So beware, there is still a property fraudster out there who may try and sell your client’s property and no one cares. I even have his solicitor’s details, his description and phone number! I’m sure when he strikes again it will ultimately be the solicitors who pay for his fraud.
Surely it is time to set up a specialist unit at the Land Registry and the police to tackle this crime? I urge the Law Society to press for this. I would happily give up my time to help if it was needed, as less fraud will make mine and other conveyancers’ jobs easier. I also do not know of any property professional who does not think that it is also time to close the Registry’s records to the public so that we are not making it quite so easy for the criminals.
Angela Neale, Comptons Solicitors, London NW1