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Protecting the vulnerable from financial abuse

How can we protect our loved ones from scams and financial abuse?

Financial abuse of older and vulnerable people is a very real problem, and can involve theft and fraud, as well as exploitation.

Sofia Tayton, a partner and head of the Elderly and Vulnerable Clients team at Lodders, examines this worrying trend, and what can be done to protect loved ones.

Recent news reports have highlighted that the financial abuse of older and vulnerable people is a very real problem. In one recent case, a man defrauded his aunt out of over £35,000, and in another, a woman swindled two victims out of their life savings.

Financial abuse can involve theft, fraud, and exploitation. Restricting access to money or possessions is also abuse, as is pressurising a person about their will, power of attorney, property, or inheritance.

Evidence

A 2021 report by the House of Lords describes the abuse of older people, particularly those with dementia, as ‘complex, poorly measured, and hidden, whilst statistics published by the charity Hourglass (formerly Action on Elder Abuse) reveal at least £13 million was reported as stolen, defrauded, or coerced from older victims in 2020.  Between 2015 and 2021, The Office of the Public Guardian investigated around 12,000 cases of potential abuse of powers of attorney between 2015 and 2021.

Perpetrators

Indications are that 60% to 80% of financial abuse against older people takes place in the home, and 15% to 20% in residential care.  And the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforced isolation of lockdown are thought to have contributed to the problem.

Surprisingly, the perpetrators in many elderly theft cases are not strangers. They are friends, relatives, or carers of the victim.  Some are even attorneys.

Some perpetrators are opportunists, who spot a vulnerable elderly individual and see them as easy prey to con them out of their life savings. Others are professional scammers, who target older people with increasingly sophisticated schemes.

Protection from financial abuse

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is one of the ways you can ensure the involvement of people you trust in making decisions for you and your loved ones. The best way to ensure power of attorney documents are suitable for an elderly or vulnerable relative, or to help them review their will or estate planning, is to speak to an experienced legal adviser – the Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) is a national association of independent lawyers who specialise in legal services for older and vulnerable people, so make sure you find someone who is a member.

Resources to help identify scams and financial abuse

Helping family members and friends to stay safe can be daunting, but there are resources available to help identify scams and spot the signs of financial abuse:

More information

Sofia Tayton is a specialist in the preparation and registration of Lasting Powers of Attorney, regularly advising clients on these as well as Court of Protection applications, care funding, wills, and estate planning. A member of the SFE, she manages the financial affairs of people unable to do this for themselves, as well as advises on care fundings, reclaiming care fees, and the appointment of Deputies.

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