A Lesson for Conveyancers. Don’t Assume Anything. Or if you do, Assume Your Client IS a Crook.
Whose idea was it, to abolish title deeds? It must have seemed a splendidly logical idea to the computer programmers and IT advisors who looked at the Conveyancing process in the late 1990s, when they made systems analyses and reported to Government and the Land Registry.
Cos, if the owner of a property is whoever is shown on the Land Registry computer as the owner, wot’s the point of Deeds eh? [The question is rhetorical, the answer is – “Because People are bad, and you cannot trust them.”]
Sweet really, how naive a Computer Programmer can be, tucked away from the real world happy tapping in the glow of his screens.
Here is an illustration, a case of PURRUNSING reported in March 2016, where a bad person has stolen a house.
It seems, all you have to do if you are a crook, is find some empty properties, then search the land registry registers, anyone can do it for a few pounds a go, until you have identified one of them which has no mortgage on it.
The next bit is more tricky, you do need to get yourself a forged passport in the name of the registered proprietor – and thankfully I have no idea how you do that.
Then you get an accommodation address in England in your name and when you have been there a bit in your false name you should have some rent and electricity receipts.
Then off you go to your local unsuspecting solicitor and sell the place. He won’t ask you for the title deeds, because we don’t do that anymore, not since 2003.
So in the case of Purrunsing, the fraudster was paid £470,000.00 and has left the scene. The Buyer would now like his money back please.
If you are a solicitor reading this, you may think, well, if I were acting for the crook, I can’t be expected to identify a well forged passport, and the invoice receipts were genuine, so how could I be responsible? Do I have to upset all my clients by asking them to prove they are not crooks? I haven’t been dishonest and I acted in good faith.
And if you are a solicitor reading this, you may think, well, if I was acting for the purchaser I can’t be expected to identify the person who has pretended to be the owner and link him to the property, so how can I be responsible? And anyway, doesn’t the seller’s solicitor give an implicit warranty of authority that he acts for the seller? I haven’t been dishonest and I acted in good faith.
Well if you read the case, you will see that both solicitors were held to be equally short of the necessary standard of care in the transaction, and they have had to repay the Buyer half each.
With hindsight, no doubt both sets of Solicitors can see that there were warning signs. High value, empty property, with no mortgage. “Seller” who lives at a different address from the address listed at the Land Registry. Seller whom the Solicitor has never acted for previously, who says he spends most of his time abroad, who cannot answer questions about the property and is pressing for a very early sale at a “discount price”.
But still, how many of us (and in a former life I was a solicitor running a high volume conveyancing caseload) can say hand on heart, “this could never have happened to me”?
And in the judgment, it is pointed out that the sale to Mr Purrunsing followed an earlier abortive sale to another Buyer, whose Solicitors did actually smell a rat. They asked for the Seller’s employment details in Abu Dhabi [where he had said he worked in a hospital] and as soon as they did that, the job was off!
Top Marks to those Solicitors, who among you would have gone so far?
So the lesson of the case, is a reminder that now that there are no title deeds the fraudsters and thieves are out there taking advantage. And you Solicitors and Licensed Conveyancers are the people whom, ultimately, they will be stealing from. If you let them.
Fraud is all around. As Reg Presley didn’t say. Link here.
As always, for accurate Notarial acts and records, please do contact me or Louise whenever you need Notarial certification or Legalisation for your Documents– at http://www.atkinsonnotary.com – or phone me on 0113 816 0116 (internationally 0044 113 8160116)