Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Title Fraud in B.C.
Written by: Alfonso Chen
Introduction: The Recent Cases
On March 23, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated state of emergency in B.C., the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (the “LTSA”) published a concerning public notice acknowledging two attempts at title fraud involving owners living abroad, one of which the LTSA stated was successful. In both cases, the fraudsters were impersonating registered owners who live abroad. The fraudsters used phone numbers and email addresses different from those authorized by the owners to instruct the property managers and obtained from the property managers documents that allowed them to better impersonate the registered owners. In the successful case, a legal professional was retained by the fraudster after having verified the client identity using a forged passport and ultimately helped to transfer title to the property.
There were three main reminders to professionals from the LTSA in this public notice:
Know your client – follow the identity verification requirements set out in FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada) and the relevant professional body.
Be suspicious of requests from clients who live abroad to change any of their communication methods, especially if the request is to change all communication methods simultaneously.
Be careful of clients who express urgency or provide unusual instructions, such as listing the property below market value.
How to Decrease the Risk as a Homeowner
There are several ways to decrease the risk of becoming the victim of title fraud. The risk seems to be particularly high during events like the COVID-19 pandemic because many people may be outside of B.C. due to pandemic restrictions or familial matters. Below are a few ways to decrease the risk:
Obtain title insurance – though expensive, title insurance can provide fraud coverage and can involve a one-time cost so that you are protected once you purchase it. You should speak to the insurance provider to discuss details of the coverage.
Instruct your property manager to only use the email address and phone number you provide for any communications concerning your property.
Instruct your property manager to notify you if any messages are sent via any email address or phone number purporting to be from you or your representative that is not the one you leave with the property manager.
Contact your property manager on a weekly basis to obtain updates concerning your property and to ensure that there has been no attempt at title fraud.
Avoid disclosing and unintentionally leaking your personal information – if you dispose of documents containing personal information, such as credit applications which often contain a lot of personal information, you should shred them prior to disposing of them.