The financial harm, abuse and exploitation of older people is a growing phenomenon across Scotland. Accounting for around a third of all calls to our Helpline, it can include abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust (e.g. family, carers, friends, etc), as well as exploitation at the hands of strangers via scams or ‘doorstep crime’.

To me, financial abuse committed by those in a position of trust is a much more alarming problem. Not only is it morally despicable, but it’s less likely to be identified - either because the victims are too scared or ashamed to speak up, or because they don’t realise it is happening. This might include theft, fraud, forgery, or coercing someone to part with money, goods or property.

We’ve had a surprising amount of calls to our Scottish Helpline from people, usually family members, who have uncovered financial abuse of an older person after they have died. So what can be done and what advice would we give? The following example, based on one of our callers, may illustrate. (Details have been changed to protect the identity of the caller)

Lorraine used to be very close to her mother, Sylvia, until about 6 years ago when they fell out because Lorraine had separated from her husband, Bob. Lorraine hadn’t spoken to her mother since the divorce. Sylvia had always liked Bob and couldn’t forgive Lorraine for them splitting up.

Lorraine received a phone call from her elder son to let her know about the death of her mother, and also that she had been diagnosed with dementia 3 years before she died. Lorraine later discovered that her mother had appointed Bob as her Power of Attorney and he had cashed in one of her savings bonds and transferred the £30,000 to his own personal bank account.

Lorraine was told that the solicitor who drafted the power of attorney was one of Bob’s friends, and decided to contact our Helpline for advice.

Our advice when financial abuse is uncovered after death:

  • In the first instance, try to obtain more facts from as many sources as possible. Although the Office of the Public Guardian are unable to investigate concerns about power of attorneys after the person’s death, they may be able to provide information about the history or the registration of the document.
  • If you suspect there may have been fraud or theft, consider reporting to the police. If they gather enough evidence to satisfy them a crime has been committed, they will send a report to the Prosecutor Fiscal who will decide what action to take, which may include prosecution.
  • If you have concerns about misconduct of a solicitor in relation to a Power of Attorney or other legal arrangement, contact the Legal Society of Scotland for advice. You may then be able to take the complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who will investigate the conduct of the solicitor.
  • If you have concerns about the way a will has been drawn up, you should consider seeking advice from an independent solicitor. Even if you feel the will has been drawn up appropriately, but you nevertheless have concerns, you have a legal right to contest it. Solicitors for Older People Scotland will be able to help you find a local solicitor.

Keeping safe from financial abuse - prevention is key

Your money or possessions:

  • check your bank statements regularly
  • if other people do your shopping, keep an eye on receipts and what is spent
  • make sure people you trust know where you keep important possessions and documents.

Scams and doorstep callers:

  • if you need work done to your house, your local Care and Repair might be able to help, or contact the Trusted Trader scheme at your local council
  • don’t let anyone in your home unless you can confirm their identity or have made an appointment for them to visit (perhaps when someone you trust is there).
  • be aware of scams which try to get you to disclose your bank details.

Planning ahead:

  • if you are thinking of moving in with family, get advice on the financial implications of this arrangement
  • consider who you might want to make financial decisions on your behalf if you lose capacity, and consider appointing someone you trust to be a Power of Attorney. Get impartial legal advice about this
  • share your plans with everyone affected.

If you’ve been financially abused:

  • call our Helpline for information and options for reporting
  • report what is happening to your local social work department. They may decide to investigate and take action to support and protect you.
  • you may need legal advice to set up or change your will or Power of Attorney, to try to recover money or property, or to untangle a legal arrangement you have been tricked in to.