Today marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15 June 2023), which coincided with this month’s Contentious Clinic held yesterday. Our Contentious Clinic this month focussed on the sad but pertinent topic of elder abuse and in particular, financial elder abuse. Our Cara Hough, Partner at IDR Law, was joined by Paul Smith of Paul Smith Consultancy, a private investigation company dedicated to uncovering, advising on and preventing cases of fraud, theft, embezzlement, financial abuse of vulnerable people and other related crimes.
The Clinic covered what elder abuse is, what red flags to keep an eye out for, what to do if you suspect financial abuse of an elder, and some case examples from Paul. Here’s the recording.
What is elder abuse?
In short, financial elder abuse usually involves someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing, either without the victim’s knowledge or having taken advantage of their vulnerabilities to gain their consent, for their own financial gain. Common examples include a person using the victims bank card to withdraw money for their own benefit or making bank transfers to their own account without the victim’s knowledge or consent.
People will often argue that either they had Power of Attorney and so were making transactions for the victim’s benefit, or that the victim told them they could take the money and / or that it was a gift to them. Sadly but often, the spending does not reflect the lifestyle of the victim and / or the victim does not have capacity to consent to gift giving in this way.
During the webinar Paul Smith shared his experience investigating the granddaughter of a 98 year old victim in Dorset:
The granddaughter had Power of Attorney for her grandmother and lived in Surrey. She would visit her grandmother sporadically, each time withdrawing money for her own benefit and trying to legitimise this by claiming to charge her grandmother for things like mileage for travel and her car valeting. Concerns were raised and on investigation, the evidence showed clearly a significant and continuous reduction in cash after the granddaughter obtained the Power of Attorney and began to use her grandmother’s money. The grandmother subsequently passed away and despite the granddaughter being sole beneficiary of her estate, the Jury were unanimous in their guilty finding as a result of her helping herself to grandmother’s assets in life. The granddaughter, who had no previous convictions, was convicted and sentenced to a two year prison sentence as a result of her actions.
This example reflects the severity of financial abuse and demonstrates the fact that usually, the suspect is a family member of the victim and someone who they trust and rely on, who is sadly abusing that position.
What are the ‘red flags’?
Red flags are sometimes obvious to spot, but often people who are subject to financial abuse are elderly, vulnerable and isolated by the person taking advantage of them. Things to look out for and which can be signs of elder financial abuse include:
– A person who has Power of Attorney using their powers to make gifts to themselves.
– A person without Power of Attorney who has and uses the victims bank card for their own spending.
– Random, large gifts to a particular person which is out of character for the victim.
– Numerous cash withdrawals for self-funding purposes, which do not align with the spending of the victim.
– Transactions which do not fit with the victim’s lifestyle, for example, online spending for things which are of no benefit to the victim.
Whilst these, amongst other things, can be indicators of financial abuse, the sad reality is that these things often only come to light after the victim has passed away and their personal information is accessed by others.
What to do if you spot a red flag and / or suspect financial abuse of an elder?
If the victim is alive, the first port of call is to contact the relevant authorities and raise your concerns. This includes reaching out to the local authority, the police, adult social services and if there is concern about capacity and / or abuse of a Power of Attorney, the Office of the Public Guardian. If there is a suspicion that someone is accessing the victims bank account without their knowledge or relevant authority, you can inform the bank and put them on notice of the concerns in an attempt to block any such spending.
The steps taken by the relevant authorities will depend on whether or not the victim has capacity and sometimes, it can be difficult for authorities to progress any investigations if the victim has capacity and does not wish for them to be involved. If there is a significant risk of harm to the victim, the police can support the local authority to try and safeguard the victim as best as possible in the circumstances. Where a victim does not have capacity, concerns are exacerbated and generally, a scattergun approach (i.e. contacting as many authorities as possible and raising concerns to all of these) is likely to be the most productive way of pressing for action.
Sadly, the police can often be reluctant to get involved in cases of financial elder abuse, particularly where the victim has subsequently died. In any event, the key to building cases both from a criminal and civil perspective is evidence, and so if you are investigating financial abuse of an elder, you should look to review key information such as:
– Bank statements – Are there any unusual transactions? Are there numerous cash withdrawals over a period of time? Is there spending which you suspect was not the victim’s own spending?
– Care and medical records, including records from any GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes, all of which will be stored separately – Did the victim have capacity to make transactions or gifts?What was the victim’s state of health when transactions in question were made? Where was the Deceased and does this align with spending or cash withdrawals at the time? During the webinar, Paul referred to an investigation he assisted with, in which the victim’s records showed she was bed bound in a care home whilst spending money at online retailers. None of which aligned and evidenced the concerns.
– The position of the person who you suspect has taken money and whether they have abused their position in doing so – Was there a Power of Attorney and or a relationship of trust which has been abused? On what basis are they trying to justify the position? Does this align with the potential reality?
This evidence, amongst other things, helps create a timeline of events, paint a picture of the situation and build evidence to support (or defend) a case of financial abuse.
At IDR Law, we deal with post-death financial abuse and can assist in investigating the above. If you wish to discuss this further with us, or have a client who seeks guidance on this, please do get in touch.
Similarly, Paul can be contacted at Paul Smith Consultancy to assist with evidence gathering. More information on the services Paul can offer can be found in the sector spotlight area of the IDRN.