The SRA is again reporting a number of cases of vendor fraud in conveyancing transactions. If you carry out property conveyancing work on behalf of sellers or buyers, you might be at risk of being involved in this type of scam.
The fraud involves properties, usually residential, being targeted by fraudsters and offered for sale without the consent or knowledge of the genuine owners.
Properties targeted for vendor fraud might be offered for general sale, but in some instances there are already buyers in place who appear complicit in 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.
There have been cases of fraudsters infiltrating law 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.
Red flags might include:
- price of property not market value – for example being offered significantly over or under value
- client is reluctant or unable to provide documents
- ID documents do not look genuine – for example differing type face on passports or driving licences
- pressure to complete the transaction very quickly – for example within a few days
- 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
How can I avoid being involved?
It is important that you properly identify and check the suitability of your employees and supervise their work. If you have any concerns about a member of staff carrying out work which you know or suspect may be linked to fraudulent activity, you must report it to the SRA, and the appropriate law enforcement authorities.