By Amy Nhan

Identity theft is not a new phenomenon but with more and more transactions taking place online or over the telephone, obligations to prevent money laundering and scam purchases or sales have also increased.

If you have ever applied for a home loan or a travel visa, you would be familiar with the various documents that banks or government authorities require to verify your identity.

As of 9 November 2015 the Australian Registrars’ National Electronic Conveyancing Council (ARNECC) and Land Victoria require legal practitioners to be responsible for arranging and conducting a Verification of Identity (VOI) check on all clients who are purchasing or selling real property.

At the moment there are still many aspects of the conveyancing transaction that involve document exchange in person but a national electronic conveyancing approach is on the agenda, where all transactions will be done online, and this new obligation on legal practitioners is a significant step toward that new approach.

What is a VOI check?

A VOI check is a check undertaken by the legal practitioner to verify that a client is who they say they are and they have the capacity to buy or sell the property that they intend to buy or sell. A common example of verification is ensuring Mr Smith, for instance, is the “Mr Smith” who is the director of a company that wishes to buy a property. Checking his identity in that regard also verifies his capacity to act as director to enter into that purchase transaction.

There are a number of ways in which a VOI check can be conducted.

The first option is for a client to attend our office and provide original, up-to-date documents such as an Australian passport, driver’s licence and, if necessary, marriage certificate (i.e. when there has been a change of name) so that we can verify your identity. We can conduct the VOI check for a fee of $99.

Alternatively, Australia Post can conduct the necessary VOI check. This means that instead of attending our office, you can attend your local post office and have an Australia Post staff member complete your VOI check (their administration fee is currently $39 including GST).

What if I am residing overseas?

If a client is currently residing overseas and will not be visiting Australia prior to the sale or purchase of their property, they will need to attend the nearest Australian consular office.

Consulate staff cannot verify your identity; however, they can certify copies of your identity documents which will need to be posted to our office.

A legal practitioner can arrange a Skype meeting with the client so that the client can show the legal practitioner, over Skype, the original identity documents for the purpose of checking it against the certified copies of the documents.

As mentioned, VOI checks only need to be conducted for real property transactions; however, we expect that this level of verification will extend to other transactions in the future as business moves online.

If you require legal assistance with the sale or purchase of property or if you require a VOI check for any such transaction, please contact John Wardlaw (Director, Corporate Practice Group) on 03 9629 9629.