Tens of thousands of older people are at risk of financial abuse, with those with dementia or reduced cognitive function the most vulnerable, according to Age UK. The warning comes as the latest figures show that at least 130,000 older people have suffered some form of financial abuse from someone known to them since turning 65.
Women are twice as likely as men to be victims of financial abuse in later life, with the majority being women aged 80 to 89 and living on their own, single or widowed. The Charity is warning that financial abuse can have a serious impact on older people, both financially and emotionally, and loss of even a small amount can be catastrophic, especially for those on low incomes. Abuse of this kind is also closely linked to negative health outcomes and a decline in mental health and resilience.
This issue is increasingly recognised by the banking industry, for example in the recent Citizens Advice and BBA report on financial abuse in partner relationships, but Age UK is keen to see similar approaches adapted to the older population. With around 300,000 older people dependent on others for help with financial transactions, the Charity argues that there is a need for improved protocols and staff training to recognise the tell-tale signs of financial abuse and to assist older customers. Disability and cognitive decline are factors that increase the risk of financial abuse.
The Charity is keen for all professionals who come into contact with older people – not just in the financial sector but in others including health and social services, as well as legal and police services among others – to be given the training, guidance and support required to recognise and take action if financial abuse is suspected. Despite many people believing that rogue traders and scammers are the biggest threat, sadly the evidence shows that family members can often be the perpetrators – in fact half of all of this type of crime, which excludes scams, is carried out by the adult children of the victims.
Scams committed by people unrelated to the victim are also an increasing problem. In addition to better staff training, Age UK is calling on banks to improve their detection systems and change their approach to liability. With scams becoming increasingly sophisticated, the Charity is warning that they pose a particular risk to older people, those living with some form of cognitive decline above all, although anybody, at any age, can be caught out.
Currently banks generally take a strict approach to liability, deeming the customer to be at fault if the scammer has tricked them into authorising a transaction. However Age UK, among others, believes that the banking sector should take more responsibility for scams perpetrated using bank accounts opened with them and the inter-bank electronic payment system. Better systems are needed to identify and prevent scams as early as possible.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘An ageing population brings many positives but also challenges, such as the steep rise in the numbers of older people with dementia and other cognitive problems – which we know are a major risk factor for financial abuse.’
‘That’s why it is so important that we develop practical tools for organisations, not just in the financial sector but in health and care too, to help staff who engage with older people to be alert to cognitive decline, the consequent risks of financial exploitation and abuse, and how best to prevent and tackle them.’
‘In addition, the fact that the overwhelming majority of families want only the best for their older relatives should not blind the authorities to the sad reality, which is that financial abuse does sometimes happen in families, just as we know other forms of abuse do too.’