When you instruct a solicitor you will be asked to come into the office or go to a local solicitor to provide your identification documents. These are usually your photo-card driving licence or passport, and a bank statement or utility bill, not more than three months old, showing your name and address. If you are selling a property that you do not live in we will ask you for another form of address ID connecting you to the property, such as the buildings insurance or service charge invoice.
This can sometimes feel intrusive but we do it for a good reason. Money laundering and property fraud is big business. There have been a number of recent cases where money has been handed over by a buyer to a fraudulent seller and the seller disappears with the money.
The Land Registry opened the Register to the public a number of years ago, which means that anyone could look at your deeds on line. They can see if you have a mortgage. They can cross-reference whether your address at the Land Registry for correspondence is the same as the address that you reside in through various websites like 192 and the Electoral Role. Criminals will trawl the obituaries to see who has died and then check the Land Registry to see if they own a property, preferably mortgage free, and then they can impersonate the seller in order to sell the property.
Some criminals rent the property and from there they can obtain address ID by way of utility bills to “prove” that they live there. Once in these rogue tenants can impersonate the owner of the property and sell it. There have also been cases where solicitors were impersonated, so we always make enquiries at the Law Society and check that the solicitors exist and that the bank account we send buyers’ money to is genuine. In a recent case where criminals had impersonated both the solicitors and sellers, the buyer not only lost all of their hard-earned money but they still owed the mortgage money which had been used to fund the purchase.
Sometimes the rogue seller will hand over a Transfer deed to a buyer on completion and the Land Register the property in the buyer’s name. In that instance, the real owner of the property has just had their entire house stolen from them.
So we know it is a pain, and inconvenient, when your solicitors insist you visit their offices to provide your identification, but we really are only doing to protect you. If we never see you, how do we know someone is not impersonating you to steal your money and your house?