An Edinburgh-based heir hunting company has been convicted of fraud. World Wide Genealogy Ltd, formerly known as Beneficiaries Ltd (Beneficiaries Ltd) was found guilty at Reading Crown Court of ten counts of Fraud by False Representation contrary to Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006. The unanimous verdict followed a three day trial at which the defendant company was unrepresented. You can read West Berkshire Council’s synopsis of the case here.
The thrust of Title Research’s “Fairness Campaign” has been to highlight the unnecessary expense levied on estates by heir locators who choose to operate the “contingency fee” model, and the lengths that some are prepared to go to secure beneficiaries’ signatures and thus their percentage fee. Whilst we accept that this case involving Beneficiaries Ltd may be an extreme example, we completely agree with Councillor Dominic Boeck, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Trading Standards, that companies operating in this market simply cannot mislead and lie to people while asking them to give up large sums of money; it is just not right to ask people to sign a contract without knowing as much about the facts of the estate as the heir locator does.
The issue is not just the amount of the fee charged, whether 4% or 40%, but also the methodology of “contingency fee” based heir location generally, in which full disclosure is not always present. In what regulated industry would a market participant be allowed to behave in this way? Parts of Canada and the US have legislated in this area. Regrettably, the heir locator industry is at present unregulated in this country. Doesn’t this case, together with those heard in the civil courts over the years, make as powerful argument as any in favour of regulation?”