by LINDA GERONIMO-SANTOS,
Solicitor NSW & WA
This article is purely a practical insight into everyday life. People sign documents from time to time. Sometimes a signature is a favour to a friend or family member. Sometimes it may be a contractual agreement where the other party would invite you not to seek the help of a solicitor as the contract is simple and therefore one saves money by not paying legal costs.
When someone suggests for you not to see a lawyer THAT IS THE TIME TO SEE ONE.
After you have completed the contract, it is too late to resolve issues associated with the signed document.
• EXAMPLES OF SITUATIONS WHERE YOU MAY COMPROMISE YOURSELF UNWITTINGLY
•If a third party (friend, colleague or family member asks you to sign a document, ensure that you read and understood what you signed.
It may be a document that registers you, for example, as a director of a company that you are not aware of. If you are registered as such, you will have liabilities with ASIC (authority for registering companies), with ATO (Australian Taxation Office). If you are registered as a director of a company, you will be liable for ATO audits and for payment of BAS (BUSINESS ACTIVITIES STATEMENTS). If you do not file this, the ATO’s attention will be drawn to you, and will investigate (1) why you are not filing BAS statements, (2) why you are not making BAS payments.
2.2 If a third party requests you to deposit monies to send overseas, be aware, because if this is a genuine transaction, the third party will not need you. The third party may be involved in an unlawful activity and you will be implicated. This may constitute a criminal offence, in which case you will be implicated as you did some activity on behalf of a person who may be involved in a fraud or an unlawful money activity.
NEVER show or use your passport or any other official identification document to enable facilitation of an activity on behalf of a third party (unless it is someone you trust, e.g., your spouse, your child, etc.). It is hard to explain to the respective authorities why you are using your official document to facilitate an activity you do not understand. LIABILITIES are quite severe, and penalties, depending on the activity, may be severe.
If you are invited by the police, make sure you understand the process. The police officers will come and invite you to the police station. This is lawful, and part of their official business. However, take care that you have legal representation before you make any statements to the police. You will be warned that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. However, if you are feeling nervous, you may just agree to sign a statement. Again, this is lawful on part of the police, because they will be using proper procedures as required by law. But in your nervous state, you may make admissions even if you know that these are not truthful. Contact a legal practitioner (this writer gets personal calls from clients at the police station at 12:00 midnight or even to early hours of the morning). You are only one phone call away from any legal practitioner). Or you can say, “Officer, I am not saying anything until I have legal representation.” That is an acceptable reply, and the police will allow you a phone call to your lawyer, especially where charges have not been laid against you. Even if there are charges, you are still entitled to make a phone call to your lawyer.
•Signing a guarantee document
If you are requested to sign a guarantee document, beware that the guarantor is chased by the lending authority, if the guaranteed borrower is unable to pay the loan/mortgage repayments. Usually husband and wife tend to guarantee for each other, only because they have mutual trust.
•Signing an invitation to participate in a sale
There are always attractive propositions to buy something at a very low price. This is fine if you are buying something from a department store or a supermarket – the amounts are generally small, and these are upfront with their costs. However, if you are invited to purchase a unit, condominium or timesharing, make sure that you understand what you are buying, particularly where the property is located overseas. Generally there are many reputable real estate agents in the country, and will do the honest deal with you. However, honesty aside, you may not know what you are buying. For example, are you buying a condo or a timesharing entitlement?
If you are being charged $20,000.00 for example for timesharing – you must understand the nature of what you are buying. Timesharing means you are buying the privilege of being able to use the property (or part of it) once a year for a determinate time (e.g. 1-2 weeks). You ask yourself then, am I going to pay this amount of money to have the privilege to stay in a condo in Queensland, (or another State) once a year – when I do not travel to this place once a year. You have to consider and convince yourself that it is to your advantage to enter such commitment. Most sales of this type will have a cooling off period, usually up to 10 days (this applies best to door knocking sales – unsolicited sales). But read the small print of the document. Your best bet is to seek legal advice – for a small amount of conference fee with your lawyer; you may save yourself a lot of frustration and difficulties in future.
•Buying real estate
The market is volatile – presently it is a vendors market – that is there are more buyers than properties available for sale. You have to consult your bank or your financial/mortgage broker if you are qualified to borrow the necessary amount before you sign a contract.
If signed under a cooling off period, ask for at least 14 calendar days or l0 business days so that your bank of choice may have sufficient time to do proper assessment and valuation of the property. If the approval is conditional, it is not good enough to enter into a contract. If the bank allows you for example 80% only, and the value is low, you will need to produce the difference out of your own pocket. The advantage of a cooling off period is that if the bank rejects your application, you will only lose .25% of the purchase price which the vendor requires as a deposit to remove the property from the market.
Unfortunately there are hundreds of situations that may be created as a result of (a) unscrupulous activities of some people, PLUS (b) your lack of ability to understand the potential repercussions that may result from a careless, but well-meaning activity on your part. Just be warned at all times. There are people out there who prey on innocent people like you and me. Just check your email and you will recognise how many fraudulent attempts are made to make you disclose your personal details including your passport number, etc. Personally, there are also similarly large numbers of people who will involve you with unlawful activities, without your knowledge.
PLEASE NOTE, ONCE YOU HAVE SIGNED A DOCUMENT, IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO PROVIDE AN EXCUSE THAT YOU DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SIGNED. IT IS BEST TO SEEK THE HELP OF A PROFESSIONAL, LEGAL OR OTHERWISE, BEFORE YOU COMPLETE AND SIGN ANY (FORMAL) DOCUMENTS.