Solicitors probed over mortgage fraud

Out of the 106 investigations conducted by the SRA where there was suspected misconduct in relation to mortgages or property, 22 law firms have been closed down by the SRA, and 24 cases have been referred to the police for investigation.

A further 30 cases have been referred by the SRA to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which has the power to strike off solicitors, with other investigations continuing.  

The SRA estimate that these emergency inspections have saved lenders between £15m and £20m in the past nine months alone.

The regulator handled over 400 cases of suspected mortgage and property fraud last year, an increase on the 356 reports in 2008 and just 85 reports in 2005.

The SRA has now issued advice and warnings to all solicitors’ firms, alerting them to the warning signs of suspicious transactions.

It has also reminded firms that they need to ensure they do not become embroiled in fraud and to report any suspicions they may have.

“We are committed to working closely with the SRA during 2010, and beyond, to target corrupt solicitors who we believe are a significant enabler of property fraud.”

Robert Wishart, detective superintendent of the City of London Police, national lead force for fraud investigation

Steve Wilmott, head of the fraud and confidential intelligence bureau at the SRA, says:  “Last year the SRA stepped up its work to prevent, deter and tackle mortgage fraud.

“Mortgage fraud is a serious issue for home owners and lenders.  

“We are working closely with major lenders and the police to share intelligence and take prompt action.”

Dan Watkins, managing director for mortgages at Lloyds Banking Group, says: “The financial services industry faces a serious and continued threat of mortgage fraud that is orchestrated by rogue solicitors.

“Lloyds Banking Group supports all efforts that are made to combat this threat.”

Robert Wishart, detective superintendent of the City of London Police, national lead force for fraud investigation, says: “We are committed to working closely with the SRA during 2010, and beyond, to target corrupt solicitors who we believe are a significant enabler of property fraud. 

“Working in collaboration will help us to better understand the threats and give us the opportunity to take preventative and enforcement action to protect the financial community”.