Diary of a High Street Conveyancer; 8th November 2021

I was all prepared to write about additional enquiries and then I was side-tracked by the news about a house being sold not by the owner but by an ‘imposter.’

The summary of the story is a home owner, Reverend Mike Hall, was alerted to the fact that there was building work being done in his house and when returning to the house, he found that his key would not work and that there was someone in his house who claimed to be the owner. None of Reverend Hall’s belongings, including furniture , etc were in the property, as the house was undergoing renovation works and the buyer had disposed of his items.

There seems to be great public awareness of the dangers of sending monies to the wrong account; this weekend The Sunday Times Money section ran an article entitled “Seven ways to protect yourself from scams.” A number of publications, including this one, takes educating people about the risks of fraud seriously. It is important that both the public and we as lawyers remain alert to phishing emails.

But the case of Reverend Hall is another case we can use to illustrate to the public that they also need to be careful when it comes to protecting their identity.

Most of us conveyancing lawyers will tell clients on completion of registration that they can register with the Land Registry Property Alert scheme and then receive alerts when any contact is made with the Land Registry about their house. Now is the time to make sure that we do this as a matter of course.

We should all be aware of the types of owners and properties which are potential targets. The CLC have produced a handy guide, but the common theme is that the majority of these properties do not have a mortgage secured over them.

I also have questions about the risk procedures of those involved. What checks did the estate agent do on the seller? What checks did the solicitor carry out? It will not be until the details of the transaction become known, if ever, that we will be able to see how this sad state of affairs arose.

One lesson for me is that Bedfordshire Police found the duplicate driving licence and bank account set up in the name of Reverend Hall, and this reminded me that there is a step in the CQS Protocol which mentions checking that the account into which the sale proceeds are paid should have been in existence for twelve months.

This case should be a reminder to us all that carrying out a property transaction is high risk.

It made me go back to certain principles; the Code for Completion; the CQS Protocol. We have probably all thought about this case and been shocked by it, but it is also a reminder to make sure that we carry out the checks we are meant to carry out, follow guidance on identity checking and continue to be aware of anything that does not sound right.

It reminded me of a recent training session I attended. Opening the session, the trainer uttered the following lines, which I thought provides an excellent reminder for us all:

“We all make mistakes, after all we’re only human. It’s how we learn from those mistakes that really matters. And if we can learn from other people’s mistakes, then even better!”

“However many of our mistakes stem from not following robust procedures and, as much as we like to do our own thing, risk management is all about making sure we submit to supervision and abide by our professional rules”

As the ‘seller’ had a bank account and driving licence in the true owner’s name, he was in for the long con (yes, I used to watch Hustle!).

These cases do not happen overnight, they take meticulous planning. Let’s not forget fraudsters are very smart people. But one thing you can be sure of is that once completion takes place, it is likely that the criminal party will be long gone.

 

This is written by a real high street conveyancer who wishes to remain anonymous. Read more in Today’s Conveyancer every week.

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