Covid-19 & Financial Abuse of The Elderly
The lockdown has created many good Samaritans across the country, particularly when it comes to looking after older, more vulnerable members of our society. Sadly, however, there are those that are exploiting Covid-19 for personal financial gain. Many elderly people are having to manage their finances in different ways – over the phone and online – for the first time, and unscrupulous individuals have been taking advantage of this through various confidence tricks and scams.
This has created a huge surge in demand to the OPG (Office of the Public Guardian) by worried relatives and friends to apply for Power of Attorney to protect their loved ones. This gives them the authority to act as an Attorney and manage their relative or friends’ finances in accordance with their wishes. This reduces the risk of them being caught out online and enables the Attorney to make trips to places like cash machines and post offices while their relatives are shielding.
But what about when financial abuse is taking place closer to home?
While the majority of people applying for Power of Attorney have the best interests of their loved ones in mind, during 2018-2019 the OPG had 3,000 complaints around allegations of abuse by legally appointed Attorneys*.
Despite it taking on average forty working days for the OPG to process a Power of Attorney application and the document itself needing witnesses physically present to sign it, there is a reluctance to change the law to relax the rules during the lockdown. It’s certainly a difficult balancing act, with many genuine applicants, however, concerns around the process being abused by some individuals can’t be ignored.
A highly complex and sensitive issue
Contemplating the fact that an appointed financial Attorney could be abusing their position can cause real distress. Often a close relative such as a son or daughter, sibling, grandchild or a trusted friend, the thought that someone could be taking advantage of you, or your relative, financially is obviously very upsetting. Another concern is that essential care for those in ill health could be withdrawn if any accusations are made. This makes having a conversation about it or even approaching the subject seem impossible for many.
As a first step, it can be useful to help organise your own thoughts by writing down your concerns and what behaviours or events have led you to believe something isn’t right.
What to look out for
While every situation is of course unique, there are some common incidences to look out for if you suspect someone is abusing their position as an Attorney.
These could include:
- Taking money or property; taking more from a cashpoint than authorised or over-claiming of benefits. Taking away small items from the property without authority.
- Forgery; as signatures become frailer they are easier to forge, this can be used to falsify a cheque, or even a Will and other important paperwork (including a Power of Attorney application itself)
- Coercion; documents are signed by the individual themselves but under undue influence. Has someone been coerced to sign over shares, or a car or made a substantial or unusual gift?
- Unusual transactions; are there cash withdrawals from banks or transfers that can’t easily be explained? Has a new name been added to a bank account?
- Changing habits: have bills not been paid on time? Are there sudden concerns about spending money?
- New faces; have long-lost family or new friends suddenly come on the scene? Are they growing more invested in the relationship?
- Unusual behaviour; has the person you’re concerned about started behaving differently? Are they more anxious or have they lost confidence?
Where to get help
Ultimately, if you have strong concerns on your own behalf or that of someone else, then you should consider contacting your local adult social care safeguarding team, the Office of Public Guardian and the police.
Our Long-term and Elderly Care team can also help. They are highly experienced in dealing with such sensitive and complex matters.
Our aim when working with clients is to bring about the best outcome, providing justice, peace of mind and compensation for the abuse suffered, while working efficiently and transparently. Looking to the future, we can also help to gain a full understanding of your loved one’s financial situation and long-term needs in order to determine which safeguards we can put in place to best protect them in the future.
For more information visit our Long Term and Elderly Care Services page or contact Heledd Wyn on 0117 906 9400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All enquiries are treated as confidential.
*The Telegraph, 26.04.20 ‘New fraud risk for ‘shielding’ elderly stuck at home during lockdown’