Researchers claim that the best estimate is that between 1 and 2 per cent of people aged 65 or over in the United Kingdom today have suffered, or are currently suffering, financial abuse since turning 65. If true, this means that approximately 130,000 people living in the community aged 65+ in the UK have suffered financial abuse at some point since turning 65.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse can include:
Being pressurised to lend money to a relative, friend or carer.
Being charged excessive sums for a service.
People frequently requesting small amounts of money from you.
Family members moving into your home without your consent and without a prior agreement on sharing costs.
Someone pressurising you to sign over your house or property.
Taking money, cashing a cheque or using credit or debit cards without your permission.
Someone spending your money on themselves while shopping for you.
Pressurising you into changing a will.
Someone else taking charge of your benefits and not giving you all your money.
Someone refusing to let you decide what to spend your money on.
Someone coercing you to give them money by telling you a hard luck story or making you feel you’re a burden.
More recent research from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) also suggested that 17 per cent of the public knew a vulnerable adult (18+) who had been a victim of financial crime and that 24 per cent of people who identified as vulnerable adults knew another vulnerable adult who had been a victim of financial crime.
Evidence shows that the risk increases with age, meaning that older people are more at risk than younger ones. At greatest risk are those with dementia, those in poor health and those suffering from clinical depression.
Social risk factors include low levels of social support and needing help with activities of daily living such as bathing, feeding, or showering, managing money, shopping and housework. Other social risk factors include having family problems and being dependent on the abuser.
Gender also is a key risk factor of financial abuse. The Met Life study in America showed that women are twice as likely as men to be victims of elder financial abuse, with the majority being between the ages of 80 and 89 and living alone. Those who are single or widowed are also at risk. Incidence increases with age for men.
Ethnicity also plays a part in being at risk of financial abuse, as those from a minority race, culture or who speak different languages can be at higher risk.
A report for Help the Aged from 2008 said that 70% of financial abuse is perpetrated by family members. It also found that 60 to 80% of financial abuse takes place in the home and 15 to 20 per cent in residential care. Personal Budgets and Direct Payments are a major potential source of financial abuse.
Around half of financial abuse in the UK is perpetrated by adult sons and daughters of the victim. Several studies have highlighted relatives’ sense of entitlement to the older person’s financial assets; family members who feel they will inherit it anyway, that the older person no longer needs it, or they feel they ‘deserve more’ for ‘services rendered’.
In the case of financial abuse by family, friends, and carers, the abuse often starts out as legitimate transactions and escalates over time, making it difficult to know when it has crossed the line into abuse. Indeed, there may be indications of consent, such as a signed document or an apparent gift, but these may not be what they seem, as there could have been coercion, which would be very difficult to spot.
Experts suspect that the vast majority of elder financial abuse goes unreported, for various reasons – the victim may not even realise what is going on, or the extent of the abuse; they may be too scared of their abuser to report them, or they may wish to protect their abuser, especially if they are a close family member.
There is some evidence that obtaining Lasting Power of Attorney can lower the risk of financial abuse, but also that some ‘attorneys’ can use it to financially abuse vulnerable people. It can cut the risk of abuse to require more than one person to have Power of Attorney over someone’s affairs.
What can you do if you suspect someone in your community is at risk of financial abuse?
The charity Action on Elder Abuse runs a confidential freephone helpline, which provides information, advice and support to victims and others who are concerned about or have witnessed abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.
The helpline is available in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm – and will not show up on your phone bill. Each nation has its own service, and callers can choose their relevant nation at the outset: 080 8808 8141.