A stolen house

The sad story of a vicar who had his house 'stolen' has hit national headlines in recent weeks. It is reported that he returned to the house which he owned, but did not live in, to find it empty and, worse still, sold without his knowledge.

Of course, it was not the house that had been stolen but rather, the vicar's identity which had allowed a fraudster to pose as the real owner. This is not a recent phenomenon. There have been a number of cases in recent years where fraudsters have masqueraded as the owner of a property and have stolen the sale proceeds before anyone has realised.

If a homeowner is a victim of fraud, they may be able to make a claim against the law firm that they used but each case will turn on its own facts and any such action is likely to take a very long time to resolve and be extremely stressful in the interim. The vicar who was a victim of the most recent fraud had also lost everything in the home: furnishings, carpets curtains and presumably any items of sentimental value.

It is reasonable for anyone who is buying or selling their home to ask their conveyancing firm what checks and balances the firm has in place to ensure that people are who they say they are. All firms are not equal in this regard – some firms will have stringent identification and due diligence procedures in place, other firms less so.

It is also worth considering using a firm which specialises in conveyancing or does a lot of conveyancing work. This is because conveyancing firms are particularly alert to the possibility of fraud and therefore apply strict processes when obtaining identification documents for prospective clients. It is fair to say that even the most diligent firms could be caught by a sophisticated fraudster, but buyer and seller clients can help themselves by making sure they understand a firm's procedures before they instruct the firm.

To discuss this or any other property related matter, contact us.