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Scam linked to notary offices

By ZHANG YI | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-04 09:25

An investigative group has been set up to probe some notary offices in Beijing for suspected misconduct that resulted in huge losses for seniors.

The Ministry of Justice on Thursday responded to recent news reports about the alleged scam targeting the elderly.

Starting immediately, notary offices or organizations are not allowed to provide notary services to people over 60 who authorize others to sell their houses unless they are accompanied by their adult children.

The whole notary process must be videotaped.

According to People's Daily, a pro bono law firm in Beijing is working on more than 10 cases involving seniors who believed they could profit by pledging their houses to a lender.

"We think it is a new type of scam disguised as a financing plan," said Wu Jie, a lawyer representing their cases at Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers.

In one case, a woman was introduced to a broker who asked the woman to lend him 1.9 million yuan ($283,000) by pledging her house to a third party for three months. In return, the broker promised to give the woman 5 percent monthly interest.

The woman claimed she was brought to a notary office and signed a thick stack of documents that she couldn't fully understand.

According to the law firm, the documents authorize the third party to sell her house.

The woman was given an IOU of 1.9 million yuan from the broker. The notary office was suspected of playing an assisting role by allowing her to sign documents she didn't understand.

The ministry said the scam has caused huge economic losses as well as emotional damage, and disturbed regular notary services. It will fully investigate notaries.

The Justice Bureau in Beijing will work with police and law enforcement authorities to bring the scammers to justice.

Tong Lihua, head of Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers, said more than 100 seniors have been scammed out their houses with the involvement of three notary offices.

He said he hoped an efficient warning system could be set up for vulnerable groups in society to prevent such tragedies from happening.

"We had an experimental program with the Aging Office in Beijing in which a hotline was set up for senior people to consult lawyers. It could prevent them from falling for scams," Tong said.

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