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Guest blog: ‘Only tech can help agents stop people like Reverend Mike Hall losing their home’

Agents, conveyancers and other people within property sales process need powerful tech to battle online property fraud scammers, says AML expert.

Olly Thornton-Berry, Co-founder and MD, Thirdfort

property fraud scam olly thirdfort

Last week’s story about a clergyman whose home was sold without his knowledge for £130,000 shows how scammers can slip through the net in property transactions – although happily the criminal involved has now been arrested.

As gatekeepers to the market, estate agents and conveyancers have a key role to play in spotting fraudulent attempts to buy property.

Manual checks, however, are always susceptible to human error. But cutting edge technology, providing bullet-proof identity (ID) verification, is now available to protect both homeowners and property professionals against the risks of fraud.

Mike Hall’s case highlights the need for estate agents and conveyancers to make more use of this tech to enhance the checks they carry out.

New AI, passport chip reading, Open Banking and facial recognition technology can automate ID and anti-money laundering checks. What’s more, it’s simple to use.

Open Banking, for instance, makes it much easier for agents and lawyers to gather the financial information they need. In addition, using Open Banking technology means the information lawyers and agents receive comes straight from the bank, removing the ability of someone to tamper with it or forge documents.

Agents and conveyancers can clearly sign-post where appropriate due diligence and Source of Wealth checks are carried out within a transaction.

And facial biometric technology is far more effective and efficient than manual ID checks.

It instantly analyses unique aspects of the human body, such as fingerprints, voice patterns, facial traits and retina scans, using these as personal identifiers.

The best systems then cross-reference and verify biometric features with those previously captured and registered to a trusted identity, such as a passport.

Digital standard

Last year HM Land Registry announced its Digital ID Standard – a new set of requirements to encourage digital identity checks in the conveyancing process.

To meet the requirements of this standard, providers will need to use a range of different technologies including biometric facial recognition and Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a secure way of remotely determining the authenticity of identity documents like passports.

Though aimed at conveyancers, HM Land Registry’s approach will help increase the take-up of digital ID technology and cut fraud risk.

We’ve been calling on the government to encourage agents to embrace similar tools, and we’re proposing that all regulators responsible for AML (HMRC in the case of estate agents) adopt a similar approach.

Such checks are necessary to protect the professionals involved in the homebuying process, as well as clients.

When the stakes are high, it makes sense to deploy every tech tool at our disposal. The news of Reverend Hall serves as a stark reminder of that.

Olly Thornton-Berry is co-founder and MD of Thirdfort. Its verification app is used by some 550 businesses within the property industry.

November 9, 2021

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