The BBC You and Yours programme has recently reported on a case where fraudsters targeted a victim as her house had been reported as being unoccupied while she took care of her sick mother.
The fraudsters got a property and financial affairs Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) using fake names, addresses and forged the victim’s signature. The fraudsters then attempted to sell the victim’s property using the registered LPA. It was only when the freeholder contacted the victim she became aware of this. The solicitors dealing with the sale had at the same time asked for a letter from the GP confirming the victim had lost capacity to enable them to act on the instructions of the registered attorney alone. At that time the fraudsters withdrew their instructions. The victim reported the fraud to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) and to the police.
This case is likely to cause concern for many about the abuse of LPAs. Indeed I have already had one client raise it with me. Thankfully cases of abuse of LPAs and to such fraudulent extremes are quite rare.
The OPG responded to the BBC investigation of this case by confirming that it intends to introduce more safeguards against fraud and misuse.
Should you find yourself in the same position as this victim then it is crucial that you report the matter immediately to the OPG, to Action Fraud and to the Police. The OPG will as they did in this case cancel the LPA but the original fraudulent document may never be returned. It's therefore vital that you contact all your financial institutions, in particular your banks and investment holders, to make them aware of the fraud, to ensure if the fraudsters attempt to use the LPA this is an immediate alert on your accounts.
If you're going away and your property is going to be unoccupied for a period of time, then there are some safety measures you can take to prevent this happening to you. For example you can set up a mail redirection to the address you are staying at or to a trusted family member/friends address. It would also be advisable to have someone you trust visit the property on a regular basis, preferably at different times of the day to show the property is being checked. It may also be sensible to advise a neighbour you are going away so that they too can keep an eye on the property.
If you're going away for a substantial period of time, for example over six months then in addition to the above you may be able to register a restriction on the land registry title to your property so that you are notified at a different address if anyone tries to sell the property. However it should be noted this is not a quick procedure and legal advice should be taken.
Cases like this actually highlight why it is important to put a LPA in place and to take legal advice on the creation of the document. Solicitors can advise you on the benefits of having a LPA in place. The solicitor can advise on the role of the attorney and discuss with you who is best placed in your family, friends, or your professional advisors to act as your attorney. They can also advise you on how to safeguard against the LPA being misused by your attorney. Crucially, you must not appoint anyone you do not completely trust to manage your affairs if you become unable to manage your own affairs.
The solicitor can retain the document in their strong room for you and only release this or certified copies of the original document on your authority to do so or on medical evidence confirming that you are not capable of providing that authority.
If you have a registered LPA then your registered attorneys can assist in reviewing your accounts and your property to ensure there is no fraudulent activity while you're away.
An Office of the Public Guardian spokesperson said: “Abuse of lasting power of attorney is extremely rare but we intend to introduce more safeguards against fraud and misuse.”