Registering a fake sub-office with the Solicitors Regulation Authority is among the considerable lengths that criminals have gone to when committing conveyancing fraud, according to joint guidance published today by the Law Society and HM Land Registry.
The 'joint property and title fraud advice' note is designed to be a reference point for solicitors in recognising potential fraud. Due to the 'rapidly evolving nature of fraud', Chancery Lane says the note cannot cover all fraud scenarios and types of fraud threat affecting land titles.
Methods used for identity theft in title fraud include unlikely transactions in fake bank statements, such as recent transactions with BHS or Woolworths, the practice note states.
Examples of suspicious behaviour, which should prompt solicitors to investigate further, include client statements such as 'I've already moved out my furniture into storage and am living with a friend', 'we have trouble with our post being stolen', and 'it will be quicker if you write to my office address'.
Vulnerable registered owners such as elderly owners in hospital or who have moved into a care home may be more susceptible to registered title fraud. Certain types of property may attract fraudsters, such as unoccupied properties or those being redeveloped.
Due diligence is more difficult to do with overseas clients, the note acknowledges. Solicitors are advised to obtain a notarised copy of the client's passport and proof of address. With corporate customer checks, they should ask for confirmation from an independent lawyer in the relevant jurisdiction who certifies details of the company's incorporation and its powers to carry out the transaction.
Joe Egan, Society president, said today: 'While successful instances of fraud against solicitors are rare, the whole profession must maintain constant vigilance against those who try to defraud them and their clients.'
Noting that fraud is now the most commonly experienced crime in the UK, Graham Farrant, chief executive of HM Land Registry, said 'we need to continue to work closely with conveyancing solicitors to ensure the necessary checks and safeguards are in place to beat the fraudsters'.