A solicitors’ watchdog in the United Kingdom has alerted law enforcement bodies to a trend in real estate vendor fraud, in which homes are sold without the knowledge of the owners.

Sara Gwilliam, Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) at the Solicitors Regulation Authority revealed in her annual report that the authority made 26 money laundering Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) overall to the National Crime Agency last year involving more than £200m of criminal proceeds.

She said: “Money laundering linked to vendor fraud was identified as a key theme in the SARs we reported.

“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 MLRO 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 National Crime Agency, police and HM Revenue & Customs), other supervisors, and the legal profession, though existing information sharing gateways and our Risk Outlook.”

Other reasons for SARS made included money laundering linked to: residential property conveyancing, fraud, tax evasion, bogus investment schemes, clients / funds from high risk jurisdictions, high risk commodities (precious and scrap metals), aborted property transactions ,no underlying legal service or purpose for transaction, complex offshore company structures / trusts and human trafficking and modern slavery.

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