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Is Di Caprio’s Machiavellian “Catch Me If You Can” character, the impostor and fraudster Frank Abagnale alive and well on the Gold Coast? In this recent case report our Bill Ross answers... "YES!"

This time however he is not operating boldly in person wearing rip-off airline pilot uniforms. This time, he is operating under the cover of the dark electronic world. Faceless and nameless, yet leaving an unimaginably huge physical footprint of human loss and anxiety.

This case arose recently, where one of our clients was undertaking the reasonably straightforward procedure of selling a vacant block of land. In the course of doing so we discovered an online listing indicating that the very same block of land was already “SOLD”. The only problem was, this “SOLD” block was in fact our client’s, inherited sadly from her deceased husband.

This placed our client in an invidious position. Not only had she lost her husband, but an impostor had accessed his ID, impersonated him, and convinced other solicitors on both sides of the transaction that it was legitimate. The attempted fraud had reached the stage where a contract was signed, a substantial deposit paid, a “SOLD” sticker slapped on the sign, with completion only days away.

This is possible in present circumstances where the Land Titles Office no longer has paper title deeds (deemed too old-fashioned years ago). Our government now boasts an entirely paperless land titling system which is conducted with electronic ease. What we have not been told is sometimes, criminals slip through the cracks.

Our firm responded urgently and lodged a "registered proprietor’s caveat", an exotic legal instrument seen as frequently as Haley’s Comet. Fortunately, we have experience in this arena.

Remarkably, the fraudster was so bold as to continue to insist that he was alive and capable of selling, notwithstanding that we proved he had died months before. Our client remains completely mortified by the deceit.

But for our firm's intervention, this fraud would have occurred within days. The take-home message is this: “Buyer, beware” - and even more so in the electronic world- "seller, beware."

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