It was Jan, 12, 2023 when Toronto lawyer Niroosan Vivekanantharajah says he was contacted by a prospective client who found him on Google.
They were looking to finalize the sale of their home. On the surface, it appeared to be a standard transaction, but it turned out to be anything but.
“They were perfect clients. They were,” he recalled in an interview with Global News. “Very good communication…Got the documents, no delays. Signing happened on time.”
The sale eventually went through, but a few days later, Vivekanantharajah received a call from the bank.
His clients were looking to withdraw the proceeds from the sale.
He says an employee of the bank flagged his client’s identification as a potential fake.
That wasn’t all.
“She told us, just so you know, this is a very new account,” he said. “This is so new that you’re the only transaction.”
Rather than give the bank the go-ahead to release the funds, he had his associate instruct them to freeze the account.
Vivekanantharajah went to the Scarborough home the neighbourhood was located in and began asking questions.
He says at first glance, the mailbox was overflowing. The glass screen door was locked.
He spoke to a number of residents, but was unable to get any substantial information from them. Then another neighbour noticed him through her doorbell camera.
They started to speak through the device and Vivekanantharajah left her his business card.
When she called, he revealed that he had sold her neighbour’s home.
“She’s like ‘Oh no, no. What do you mean you’re selling this house?’ My neighbours are in China,” he recalled.
She also revealed she had a set of keys to the house.
He contacted the bank, which then contacted the police.
On Jan. 27, Toronto police confirmed the arrests of three people who had been arrested and charged in connection to a title fraud investigation.
Toronto Metropolitan University professor Murtaza Haider says in order to come up with convincing fabricated IDs, fraudsters first need access to an individual’s personal information.
“Let’s say they get ahold of a driver’s licence renewal, email, or some mail from Canada Revenue Agency,” he told Global News.
To help safeguard your identity and your property, he recommends purchasing mail forwarding and extending that service beyond a year.
He also recommends searching your address on Google every now and then if you are leasing your property, to ensure it isn’t being included in any active listings.
Title insurance is another method of protection. Though not foolproof, it can shield homeowners from some of the consequences of a title fraud scam.
“It’s happening at an alarming pace to the extent that this shouldn’t even happen at all,” said Daniela DeTommaso, president of FCT Insurance.
“We’ve seen a doubling year-over-year.”
When asked about a need for change to industry checks and balances, DeTommaso said they would like to see greater access to identity verification tools, and more stringent penalties for those who commit title fraud scams.
“No one wants this to happen, so I think we have a responsibility to provide better tools and ultimately, to protect innocent homeowners,” she added.