A single phone call ended up costing a law firm $105,200 after its conveyancing secretary told an interested buyer the sale of a $3.8 million house was legitimate. But the property agent conducting the sale was a fraudster and the bungalow in Bishan was not on the market.
Based on the call to law firm Vision Law, prospective buyers Chu Said Thong, an oil trader, and his wife handed over $105,200 to the "agent" to confirm their interest. The cheat absconded with the money and the couple, represented by lawyer Adrian Tan, sued the firm, which was defended by Senior Counsel N. Streenivasan.
On Thursday, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy ordered Vision Law to reimburse the cash as the firm had vouched, through its secretary Susan Chua, that it was acting for the owner of the property when that was not the case.
Mr Victor Tan, the "audacious identity thief" as described by the High Court, had written a note on a fake option and faxed it to the firm's conveyancing secretary.
In the note, he pretended to be Madam Lum Whye Hee, 89, the true owner of the unit in Jalan Berjaya. He instructed the law firm to act for "her" in the sale of the 5,600 sq ft property.
In September 2010, Mr Tan also advertised in the press that the house was for sale. Mr Chu and his wife, who had responded to the ad, went to look at the bungalow but did not go in because they intended to tear it down.
Mr Chu then called Ms Chua, who confirmed the law firm was acting for Madam Lum. Ms Chua had done a title search, which showed the name on the fake option matched that of the owner registered with the Singapore Land Authority.
It has since emerged that Mr Tan has cheated two other potential buyers using the same property as bait and is now on the run.
A police report was lodged.
The judge, however, dismissed the couple's further claims for fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation. Said Justice Vinodh: "The root cause of the (couple's) loss is Victor."
This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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