How the theft of a house could have been avoided with the adoption of digital due diligence

Julie Edge | 03-Nov-2021

This week’s news of a man whose house was sold from underneath his nose has shocked the property market into the alarming reality of identity theft and money laundering.

The Reverend Mike Hall returned home from a work trip in North Wales to find his home of 30 years had been ‘stolen’ by fraudsters and sold for £131,000 to a new owner. The first he knew of the transaction was when his front door key wouldn’t work.

According to a BBC report, Mike Hall returned to his home in Luton when his neighbours called saying someone was in the house. When he arrived his key wouldn’t work and a stranger answered the front door. When Mr Hall looked up the Land Registry documentation he found that the name had been changed in August.

The BBC allege that a duplicate driving licence and bank account were set up in the name of Mike Hall and used to sell the house. When the house was sold to the new owner by the person impersonating Mr Hall, they now legally owned it.

Last year, the Land Registry paid out a total of £3.5 million in compensation for fraud. Even accounting for just 0.001 per cent of applications, fraudulent transactions need to be tackled by the industry.

Specialist Land Registry counter fraud teams focus on detection, prevention and education. They work with professional conveyancers who are required to make checks to prevent fraud and money laundering.

The Land Registry says it is actively encouraging conveyancers to use digital cryptographic ID checking as a more secure means of identifying people.

New laws such as the UK’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act have also been introduced due to the global scale of money laundering.  The UK National Crime Agency estimates it costs the country more than £100bn every year.

Failing to comply with procedural responsibilities; not providing a firm-wide AML risk assessment and delays in AML declarations were also drivers behind a surge in Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) conveyancing firm fines in the past year.

Identifying the genuine identity of a person is paramount to the transaction process to assess what risk they might pose to the UK’s fight against money laundering.

As part of our due diligence offering for law firms and conveyancers, X-Press offers both traditional and digital ID checks.  Through ICOS, our online ordering platform, conveyancers can order AML checks, Lawyer Checker and Thirdfort verification in a simple four-step process – reducing admin time, whilst improving efficiency and accuracy.

While investing in the best home security system can help prevent a burglary, avoiding your entire house from being stolen via fraud requires you (and your conveyancer) to be vigilant with paperwork. 

Our digital due diligence approach has aided the process of compliance and transaction monitoring, moving away from legacy data sets which can be fragmented or not consistent – and helping avoid a potentially upsetting, costly and lengthy police investigation.