Realtors and a legal professional verified the identity of the supposed owner through a scanned passport, which turned out to be forged, and the fraudster was able transfer title to his name

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Fraudsters impersonated owners of B.C. residential properties to steal the homes’ titles and one of the con artists got away with it, according to the agency in charge of keeping title transfers secure.

The Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia announced the fraud attempts, “one of which was successful,” and advised those in the real estate industry to increase their vigilance when dealing with clients.

“Legal and real estate professionals play a critical role in preventing title fraud,” said the authority in a release.

The perpetrator of the fraud laid the groundwork by posing as the owner of a B.C. property, an owner who lived abroad and was renting the home out. He sent the property manager instructions from a phone number and email address that didn’t match the ones authorized by the real owner.

The property managers then “shared documents (with them) that allowed the fraudster to impersonate the owners,” said the LTSA.

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“Both properties were listed for sale by realtors,” it said.

The realtors had accepted a scanned copy of the impersonator’s passport, which turned out to be forged, to verify the supposed owner’s identity.

Then a legal professional hired by the fraudster also accepted the scanned copy of the false passport, and he “assisted the fraudster in transferring title to the property.”

“Forged South African passports were used in both cases but (fraud) can come from anywhere,” said the LTSA, which is responsible for the security of titles to B.C.’s private real estate properties.

The LTSA didn’t return a request for comment and it’s unclear how the fraudster was able to persuade the professionals to bypass the requirements to verify identity set out by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), whose role it is to detect, prevent and deter money laundering.

LTSA, in its release, advised local industry professionals to “be suspicious of requests from clients who live abroad to change their phone or email address.”

They should also “be careful of clients who express urgency or provide unusual instructions, such as listing the property for below market values or instructing you not to use the multiple listing service (MLS) or for sale signs.”

A company that sells title insurance to protect buyers and owners against title fraud said an identity of an out-of-country seller is required to be verified by a professional third party because “someone needs to see the ID.”

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“But this could be a professional fraudster and they’re good at what they do,” said Tony Spagnuolo of Spagnuolo and Co.

He said the title would remain with the rightful owner and the buyer would likely have insurance as it is required by most lenders as a condition of the mortgage.

FINTRAC said in a statement it doesn’t investigate cases so couldn’t comment on the details of the case, including whether or not the professionals were fined.

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