by Tim O’Dwyer M.A., LL.B
A Logan City (Queensland) couple, Jose and Maria, heard glowing reports from a Filipino friend of his negatively-geared property investments. After Jose and Maria showed some interest in making such investment themselves their friend helpfully arranged some introductions for them. Before long this pair of novice property investors found themselves signing contracts through an estate agent and financial adviser not only for the purchase of a block of land at Robina on the Gold Coast, but also for a house to be built on the block. Fortunately Jose and Maria made sure the land contract was subject to securing finance from their own building society.
After they had made their finance application, and valuations had come in, the building society wisely warned Jose and Maria that the combined house/land package was overpriced. I was able to easily crash both contracts, but not before it became clear that someone at some stage had forged Jose’s signature on a Government-required Form 30 Warning Statement. As a result of my outraged representations to the land-developer’s solicitors and to the builder about this disturbing discovery, Jose and Maria were immediately reimbursed all their legal costs and expenses.
When I lodged a subsequent complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about the obvious forgery and likely fraudulent misrepresentations on the value of the “package”, Fair Trading’s response was simply to suggest that the forgery issue be referred to the police. This was done, and the local Criminal Investigations Branch investigated. Scout’s honour, the CIB’s official conclusion was that no criminal offence had occurred because the forgery had been made by “an unknown person as a matter of convenience only and not in an attempt to defraud any person or persons in any way.”
So I expressed my general disappointment in writing to the Fair Trading Minister. The minister replied that her department would take no action on the “alleged” forgery issue. I was further informed that the building society’s low valuation of the house/land package did not, in itself, provide evidence of any illegal activity. The Minister then suggested that, should I have such evidence, I might wish to provide this to her department’s Strategic Compliance and Enforcement Operations Unit for assessment together with – wait for it – written consent from my clients authorising me to act on their behalf in this regard.