An interesting and alarming programme about Lasting Power of Attorney fraud recently aired on Radio 4’s “You and Yours”. It describes how criminals are using fraudulently created Lasting Powers of Attorney to sell people’s houses without their knowledge.
The victim of the fraud in this case is a woman who had moved out of her beloved family home in order to care for her dying mother, leaving the house empty. It was owned in her sole name and was mortgage-free. Fraudsters had obtained a list of empty properties using a “Freedom of Information” request to the local council, identified the empty house and then prepared and registered an apparently genuine Lasting Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Affairs (LPA) over the owner’s finances, in favour of someone whom she had never heard of. They had then broken into her house to collect the various letters sent by the Office of the Public Guardian during the registration process. Once the LPA was registered, the newly appointed ‘attorney’ had then promptly instructed a firm of solicitors to sell the house, claiming that the owner had lost capacity. The first that the owner heard of this was when the conveyancing solicitor smelt a rat over a lack of client ID and tracked her down.
It was unfortunate that the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) came out of this incident so poorly. I deal with the OPG regularly in making powers of attorney for clients, and in my experience their staff are remarkably well-trained and helpful, so this wasn’t at all representative of their work. Although the LPA ended up being cancelled officially by the OPG, perhaps unsurprisingly the fraudsters failed to respond to a polite request to return the original registered deed. This means that it could still be used fraudulently again at any time, which is of course very concerning for the victim.
So what can you do to avoid becoming the victim of Lasting Power of Attorney fraud? Avoid leaving property empty, if possible. Particularly if you own unmortgaged property – which is always more vulnerable to fraudulent transfers because there is no lender to reckon with – it is an excellent idea to register with the Land Registry’s Property Alert Service, which will notify you promptly by email if there is any change made to your title(s). You can do that here for free: https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/.
Arguably, another line of defence against becoming the victim of LPA fraud is to make your LPA and then to lock it up securely. In order to make an LPA for someone who has an existing, registered one in place, fraudsters would need to send the OPG not only (a) the new, fraudulent LPA but also (b) a deed of revocation revoking the existing deed, and also (c) the original, registered deed itself. Getting hold of the original is unlikely to be straightforward, which makes a well-organised person with their LPA in place a less likely target.
Here’s the link if you’d like to listen to the full You & Yours programme. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06p3xk5
Chiltern Wills is a Will writing business based in Beaconsfield and run by former London solicitor, Rebecca D’Arcy. Call 01494 708688 or email email@example.com for a free, no-obligation discussion about how we can help with Wills, powers of attorney or probate work.