A few inconsistencies were all it took for a property owner to prevent the fraudulent sale of her home. It was only when the freeholder of her property told a woman that someone had tried to sell it, that she discovered that fraudsters had infiltrated her life.
The homeowner had left her flat temporarily unoccupied during the Covid pandemic, when she went to care for her mother. However, on returning to the property, she discovered that someone had drilled through the locks and that a fraudster, “Julie”, who had claimed to be the woman’s sister, had been granted lasting power of attorney over all of her affairs.
This document gave Julie the legal right to sell the woman’s £280,000 home.
The property was based in Middlesex, but the solicitors appointed to convey the sale, Versus Law, was based in Manchester. Along with a driving licence and two bank statements, the firm had been provided with a genuine lasting power of attorney document, but it contained several factual errors, fake names and suspicious signatures that appeared to have been written by the same signatory.
To prevent a fraudulent sale, the solicitors requested more evidence that Julie had the right to sell the woman’s property, and asked for a doctor’s note to confirm her lack of capacity. After pushing for this evidence and receiving no reply, the firm became suspicious.
It is the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) that is responsible for approving applications to grant a lasting power of attorney, and the government body says that incidents like these are rare.
The OPG says it investigates several thousands of cases each year where people have raised concerns that a lasting power of attorney has been abused. If this is found, the person responsible is stripped of their power. However, unless a concern has been raised, it is unusual for a case to be investigated. There are no fraud detection measures in place to cross reference identities on applications, nor does the OPG employ any trained fraud investigators.
In a statement the OPG said: “We intend to introduce further safeguards against fraud and abuse. These include more direct inquiries with those creating the lasting power of attorney.”