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Identifying and Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

Identifying and Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

The financial abuse of elderly individuals has been on the rise, particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased reliance on others for help and a surge in first-time internet use have contributed to this troubling trend. Social and economic pressures, fractured families, and the rise of online banking and shopping have further fueled this issue.

While anyone can be at risk, those who are elderly, disabled, cognitively impaired, or suffering from poor mental health are particularly vulnerable. A 2015 KPMG survey highlighted a surge in cases where family members perpetrated financial fraud against their elderly relatives. While many family caregivers act with integrity, it is important to acknowledge that this is not always the case.

Financial abuse can take many forms, from overcharging on purchases to outright theft of money or property. It often includes unauthorized control over a vulnerable person’s finances, and the increasing use of internet banking and shopping has introduced new opportunities for exploitation. Here are some common examples:

  • Theft or unauthorized use of money or property: This can include overcharging for services, stealing cash, or misusing an elderly person’s assets.
  • Forging signatures: Vulnerable individuals may have signatures that are easy to forge, making them targets for financial abuse.
  • Controlling online identities: Perpetrators may set up and control a vulnerable person’s online accounts under the guise of helping them manage their finances.
  • Scams and confidence tricks: Elderly individuals may fall victim to predatory scams, including “sweetheart” or “romance” scams that exploit their loneliness and trust.

The perpetrators of financial abuse are often close to the victim, including family members, caregivers, or trusted individuals. Motivations can vary from financial desperation to a misguided sense of entitlement or frustration over waiting for an inheritance.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

There are several indicators that financial abuse may be occurring. Practitioners should be vigilant for signs such as unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, sudden changes in financial habits, additional names on accounts, unpaid bills, or the appearance of new, uninvolved relatives or friends. More subtle signs include increased isolation, reluctance to discuss family matters, and a sudden lack of self-confidence.

Actions for Practitioners

When suspicions of financial abuse arise, it is crucial to act sensitively and appropriately. Practitioners can take several steps, including:

  • Assessing the extent of the alleged abuse and evaluating the credibility of claims brought by others.
  • Contacting the police, Adult Social Care, or the Office for the Public Guardian.
  • Considering an application to the Court of Protection for the revocation of a lasting power of attorney (LPA) or registered enduring power of attorney (EPA).
  • Notifying any professional body to which the suspected perpetrator belongs.

Above all, practitioners should ensure their actions do not inadvertently alert the perpetrator, potentially causing further distress to the vulnerable person.

Protecting elderly and vulnerable clients from financial abuse requires vigilance, sensitivity, and a proactive approach. By recognizing the signs and taking appropriate actions, we can help safeguard their financial and personal well-being.

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