Law Society of Ontario implements virtual verification for client identity to combat fraud, ensure compliance

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In a bid to modernize and enhance identity verification processes, the Law Society of Ontario has announced the adoption of virtual verification for client identity, effective January 1, 2024. The new measure allows licensees to verify the authenticity of government-issued photo identification through virtual means, provided the licensee determines its legitimacy.

With the emergence of various technology products available at nominal fees, the authentication process is expected to be streamlined and efficient. To further assist licensees in choosing appropriate services, the Digital Identification and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) has compiled a comprehensive directory of authentication services.

This move towards virtual verification was initially prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing public health measures. During the lockdowns, the Law Society temporarily removed the requirement for in-person verification, allowing licensees to use video conferencing and other virtual communication methods to verify client identity.

As the legal industry adapted to new ways of engagement, the Law Society recognized the rise in fraudulent activities, including cases where the fraudster’s identity was falsely verified through virtual means. In response to these challenges, the temporary emergency measure introduced during the pandemic will conclude on December 31, 2023.

However, to address the evolving needs of the legal profession and maintain vigilance against fraud, money laundering, and other illegal activities, the Law Society will continue to permit virtual verification. This process will include authentication methods to determine the veracity of an individual’s government-issued photo identification.

The decision to implement virtual verification aligns with the Law Society’s By-Law 7.1, which mandates that all documents and records be authentic, valid, and up-to-date. By doing so, the Law Society aims to ensure a robust safeguard against potential risks associated with identity fraud.

Licensees are reminded that the verification of client identity is obligatory only in cases where the retainer involves dealing with the receipt, payment, or transfer of funds not subject to the exceptions detailed in By-Law 7.1. Moreover, licensees are now presented with various methods of verification that do not require in-person meetings, granting them greater flexibility in their professional engagements.

For additional information about virtual verification of identity, licensees can visit the Law Society’s website, where they will find valuable support, resources, and links to continuing professional development programs at no cost.

With the implementation of virtual verification, the Law Society of Ontario takes a significant stride towards embracing digital transformation while upholding the highest standards of integrity and security within the legal profession.