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Rayner - Sadly, a return to unregistered conveyancing or even registered conveyancing with land certificates, is not the answer. Unregistered title deeds can be forged, and have been in the past (indeed, the Land Registry has had to pay out compensation for having accepted a forged unregistered title). The main reason it is rare is that few valuable properties (which is where the money is) are now unregistered. Land certificates can also be forged.

The real problem is that, since the 80s, criminals have increasingly realised that property can be a fruitful source of illegally acquired cash. With successive property booms, right to buy, London as a financial power-house, it became clear that a huge amount of money was sloshing around the property transfer system. Who can doubt that, whatever the system, paper-driven or electronic, fraudsters would have increasingly targeted property fraud as a way of stealing money? It is similar motivations that have led fraudsters to work out ways of depriving people of their life savings by plausibly pretending to be their banks on the phone and getting them to transfer their cash to a phony account. And what about the pension scams that mushroomed once people were given personal control over their pension funds? All grist to the fraudster's mill. In this context, property fraud was always going to be a burgeoning phenomenon, whatever the system (particularly as the 'rush to the bottom' on conveyancing fees over the same period has resulted in practitioners doing less rather than more in relation to developing conveyancing safeguards to keep pace with the fraudsters).

One of the biggest holes in the conveyancing system is the willingness of solicitors and other conveyancers to deal with unfamiliar clients without ever seeing them face to face and/or insisting on seeing and scrutinising original ID documents and/or getting a proper 'history' and understanding of the purported client's connection with the property in question. It is clear from the case here that inadequate ID checks were carried out on the 'seller'. And there were classic risk indicators around the transaction - high value; vacant property; no mortgage; registered proprietor's address on the register was the property itself, even though it was unoccupied (so no LR notices would get to the registered proprietor); seller pressing for completion as a matter of urgency; etc.

To provide good professional service to clients solicitors might want to explain about the kind of precautions that might be advisable in the riskier situations. For example, if the client is splashing out in excess of £1 million for a property, why shouldn't the buyer think about hiring a PI to check out the seller's background if there is any lack of clarity about this? Or, what about checking back into the title more thoroughly by obtaining from LR a copy of the transfer to the seller and/or mortgage on the property if there was one at the time of the seller's purchase (the title may be free from mortgage now, but one might have existed and have since been redeemed)? It is not uncommon for transfers to bear the buyer's signature and any mortgage should have it. This can then be compared to the signature of the seller as found on the passport or driving licence produced to the seller's solicitor by way of ID. Okay, passports and driving licences can be forged as well, but the fraudster is likely to have signed these in his/her own style rather than attempted to track down the true owner's signature in order to mimic it, in reliance on the fact that practitioners normally do not check signatures in this way.

And it is still uncommon for buyers of property to safeguard their interests by (a) applying to register their email addresses as supplemental addresses for service and (b) using the LR property alert service. It should be standard advice to buyer clients that they take advantage of these free services for their own protection (not to say general advice to all clients, whether or not they are engaged in property transactions at the time). Why not be proactive rather than reactive here?

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