Queensland Law Society

Verifying client identity and overseas transactions

The QLS Ethics and Practice Centre and the Registrar of Titles and Registrar of Water Allocations wish to bring to practitioners’ attention the potential for property fraud which highlights the need to know your client and the risks of communicating with clients solely by email. This risk arises with both domestic and overseas clients, given the potential for client emails to be intercepted. One potential scenario arises where a local legal practice accepts instructions by email from an overseas client and accepts signed documents, on the basis that an Australian High Commission officer has witnessed the signatures and identified the person. Copies of a passport and licence certified by the witness are also forwarded. However, the supposed High Commission officer does not exist and the witnessing is fake, and the documents are fraudulent. Some initial checking may raise red flags and cause reasons for further detailed checks to occur. Practitioners should consider what steps they can take to confirm the identity of their clients where communication is by email alone. Steps could include contacting the client using an independently obtained phone number or other contact details, or undertaking an interview by some other means and confirming the photographs on identity documents match with the appearance of the client. Confirming the existence of the witness may also be possible, for example, a process for verifying the existence of an officer from an Australian High Commission or other Australian consular office is also outlined in the Appendix of the ARNECC MPR Version 5 Guidance Note #2: Verification of Identity. If you have questions please contact the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre on 07 3842 5843 or ethics@qls.com.au .