Fraud in relation to the elderly and infirm – is it an endemic problem?

In August of this year former Senior Judge Denzil Lush indicated that fraud committed against the elderly who entrust their financial affairs to members of their family and friends was commonplace.  Recently a report in the national press highlighted a case involving a serious fraud perpetrated by a neighbour who had been appointed the executor of a neighbour’s estate.  Ignoring for a moment fraud created by total strangers, e.g. fraudulent builders or fraudsters, some commentators have indicated that as many as 1 in 8 elderly people could be the victims of fraud orchestrated by their immediate family.  If you add to this fraud committed by friends the statistics would appear to show that the problem is much more widespread.

It appears clear that many frauds are also committed by those who seize an opportunity to take advantage for themselves. As a solicitor specialising in investigating claims often involving fraud and deception my personal view is that what has been discovered is only the tip of the iceberg.

What are the most common signs of fraud being committed by a family member or “friend”?

An elderly person is often persuaded (but sometimes coerced) into parting with their money or property before their death.   In my experience there is often evidence to prove that someone has deliberately isolated an elderly person and used the opportunity created to take control of the elderly persons assets.  I have also been involved in cases where a member of elderly person’s immediate family takes control to the exclusion of other family members who are unaware of what is occurring.

What are the signs?  Each case is unique but there are a number of pointers which individually or collectively could indicate that all is not well.  For instance, does the elderly person appear to be losing capacity to look after their legal affairs or have there been any signs that someone is seeking to or is exercising a significant degree of control?  Is there any indication that assets have been or are in the process of changing hands. It may be something small like a family heirloom or asset appearing in the possession of someone else to signal that enquires ought to be made.

Is there any evidence that the elderly person has entrusted someone with the means to control their finances, e.g. handing over their bank card and PIN number.  It is my personal view and experience that the advent of internet banking has greatly increased the risk of fraud with transactions undertaken in secrecy from a fraudsters own home computer.  Is there any indication that the elderly person is not meeting their usual outgoings or care fees when there is every reason to believe that this should not be problem?

In the absence of safeguards such as a registered Lasting Power of Attorney or Deputyship Order those concerned for family members and friends ought to look out and investigate signs that all may not be well.

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