A report by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for its most recent board meeting has highlighted an increase in the number of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by its members about potential money laundering including property vendor fraud.
The report says these SARs, which cover the 12 months to October 2020, include some £200 million in suspected criminal proceeds reported by the SRA to the National Crime Agency to support law enforcement efforts to disrupt and prosecute offenders, protect the public and tackle financial crime.
The authority says these SARs included residential property conveyancing along with nine other categories of likely criminal activity.
“Money laundering linked to vendor fraud was identified as a key theme in the SARs we reported,” says the report’s author Sara Gwilliam.
Targeted by fraudsters
“This is where homes are targeted by fraudsters and sold without the knowledge or consent of the true owners, with the elderly and vulnerable often the victims.
“As the SRA’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer, I issued a trend alert on this to flag the issue and raise awareness.
“This has been widely shared with law enforcement partners (such as the NCA, police and HMRC), other supervisors, and the legal profession, though existing information sharing gateways and our Risk Outlook.”
But Gwilliam says the increase in SARs issued by her organisation are not down to an increase in criminal behaviour, but instead heightened awareness among solicitors about their money laundering responsibilities, and therefore greater alertness.
“We remain committed to ensuring that all SRA staff members are aware of money laundering and terrorist financing related risks and the obligations placed upon everyone to internally report their suspicions,” she says. “We continue to deliver a range of money laundering and terrorist financing training courses.”