BBC highlights devastating reality of vendor conveyancer fraud

Cheshire based legal service provider ‘Lawyer Checker’ has been advocated by a top London Lawyer on BBC’s Fake Britain as the ‘go to’ check for protecting home movers ‘purchase funds. 

There is no denying that we are all pleased that the property market is getting back on its feet.  Consumer confidence may well be returning but regrettably, identity theft and conveyancer fraud is growing at an alarming rate.  In 2012 the SRA issued a warning not to rely on its own list of solicitors on the Find A Solicitor list “as verification that the firm is genuine” when criminals managed to register themselves on this list. By gaining a presence on this list the fraudsters are able to gain a further badge of legitimacy in fake transactions for their own criminal gains.

The industry has seen a significant rise in fraudulent activity since that warning 2 years ago. The SRA have reported that they received 549 reports of bogus firms in 2013; a 57% rise on the number in 2012. There have been 65 scam alerts so far this year about criminals making up or faking firms.

With £600 million in property transactions exchanged every year, the world of conveyancing presents an obvious opportunity to fraudsters. It is therefore no surprise that 60% of the top 20 conveyancing firms have now implemented Lawyer Checker into their risk management regimen.

With the world of law becoming more and more about risk management and compliance, it is more important than ever for conveyancers to be able to demonstrate to their firm, their clients and even to the courts that they have protected their client’s money with the upmost due diligence and risk assessments.

In business since late 2011, Lawyer Checker’s MD and qualified Property Solicitor Chris Harris saw a gap in the conveyancing market; theft of innocent people’s purchase funds by sophisticated criminals was increasing and there was nothing out there that allowed for a conveyancer to comprehensively check where their client’s hard earned cash and mortgage funds were going.

In addition, an increase in claims against conveyancers notably that of Nationwide v Davisons in 2012, further solidified Chris Harris’ belief that there ought to be a product out there to protect both client and conveyancer.

Built in response to this increase in vendor conveyancer fraud, the Lawyer Checker database has been created to demonstrate whether or not an account has had a track record of successful use within conveyancing.

The unique database has been collated over a number of years and only continues to grow with use.

The company’s most recent advocate is top London lawyer David Robinson, Partner at Holman Fenwick Willan. Robinson spoke of Lawyer Checker and its product the ‘Account and Entity Screen’ on the BBC’s consumer affairs programme Fake Britain, broadcast on 30th April, as being a ‘go to’ check for both conveyancers and consumers in the fight against vendor conveyancer fraud.

Robinson stated; “Fraudsters like conveyancing transactions because they are high value transactions, where large sums of money pass on completion or even at exchange of contracts.

The information on the SRA site is misleading. The system for the admission of solicitors, and even for taking them out, needs to be changed to make it more difficult for fraudsters to masquerade as lawyers.”

Mr Robinson, known for his specialists work in the field of insurance coverage and professional liability went on to advise any would be purchaser:

“Check up on the vendors’ solicitor’s name. Ask in person, don’t get fobbed off. Double all the checks you are making. When you are appointing your own solicitor, if you haven’t used one before, choose one recommended by a friend, family member or work colleague. Use all the checks that are available. Lawyer Checker is one; don’t search the internet just for the cheapest price. It’s a big transaction; it’s worth spending a few extra pounds to get peace of mind.”

The message being shouted out from the rooftops by Lawyer Checker is that ‘prevention is protection’; the Lawyer Checker service provides conveyancers with a wealth of information they can use to offer peace of mind to both themselves and the client, whether borrower or lender. Due diligence requires all solicitors and conveyancers to check the firm that they are sending monies to. Checking the roll of solicitors is no longer enough.

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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