Smith Sutcliffe Solicitors

Online Wills Fraud is new challenge

 Fraudsters are increasingly targeting the estates of the deceased for valuable internet-hosted assets such as online bank accounts, private client lawyers have warned.

Solicitors believe the trend reflects the way probate work has ‘changed beyond all recognition’. For the first time, people are trying to help the executors of their estates by giving details in their wills of passwords, pin numbers and other digital access codes. Wills, however, become documents of public record when they go to probate, allowing fraudsters to read and exploit what should be confidential information. People making wills without proper legal advice should be very careful about the sort of information that they include in the Will

The ‘low-tech solution’ is to advise clients to leave a note of online codes in a sealed envelope, which the firm keeps with the will, according to Darren Hendleman, of Smith Sutcliffe's Private Client Team .

‘We advise clients to protect passwords in the same way that we have always protected burglar alarm codes and the keys to safes and strong rooms. Make sure the executors know where to find them, usually in a side letter lodged with the solicitors.’

Law Society Private client section executive committee member Helen Clarke said: ‘As information technology becomes increasingly embedded in every aspect of our lives, we need to revise codes of practice and industry protocols around rights of access to a deceased person’s online life and assets.’

The problem of online estates fraud was highlighted in a recent survey of 2,000 adults by Goldsmiths University Creative and Social Technology Centre, which suggested that the UK population owns around £2.3bn of internet-hosted assets. It also found that around 11% of those surveyed have included online passwords in their wills.

1st November 2011, 8:59
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