Financial abuse of the elderly: The increased risk during COVID-19

12th August 2020

In these times of greater social isolation there is an increased opportunity for financial abuse of the elderly to go unnoticed. Financial abuse may be committed by strangers or close family members and may be deliberate or inadvertent.

There are many forms of financial abuse with targeted scams and thefts being the most well-known. Perhaps less well known, or less understood forms of financial abuse include:


  • exerting influence or pressure on older or more vulnerable people to give away assets or change their wills;
  • persuading a person to sign a deed or financial document without full understanding of the consequences;
  • taking control of a person’s bank account or bank card without permission or legal authority; or
  • Using their property without authority.

In lockdown when older people are even more isolated and dependent upon family or friends, the risk of financial abuse by their loved ones has increased. Financial abuse may go undetected for a significant period of time because the victim may not realise it is happening.They may not realise that their finances have been depleted or understand that they have been pressured or persuaded to do something against their own interests.  When the extent of the financial abuse comes to light, some victims feel helpless or may not wish to speak out against relatives who they depend upon.

Financial abuse is not always deliberate. Family and friends may subject their loved one to financial abuse without fully appreciating the nature or impact of their actions. It may start out as legitimate transactions that escalate over time, making it difficult to identify the point it becomes abuse. Depriving a person of the right to make decisions over their finances disempowers their voice and their choices, even when acting with good intentions. Taking control of a person’s finances without their consent is a violation of their rights. 

As a solicitor, I am alert to possible signs of financial abuse and I am committed to ensuring that the voice of all elderly clients is heard and acted upon. I provide advice and guidance on the options open to an individual to determine who should support them in making their own decisions or to step in if they were to lose mental capacity.

A Lasting Power of Attorney, when used appropriately, can be an empowering document as it grants responsibilities to the individual most trusted to act in their best interests. There is a responsibility on the appointed to act in the person’s best interests and failure to do so could lead to an investigation by the Office of the Public Guardian. The involvement of a solicitor in the process of preparing a Lasting Power of Attorney provides a safeguard against undue pressure from relatives and a reminder to the attorneys on their responsibilities.

It is imperative in these times of increased isolation that we all stay alert for signs of financial abuse of our neighbours, family and friends and that we review our own behaviours to ensure that we are not disempowering our loved ones even when our motives are pure. Some warning signs of financial abuse may be clear and others more subtle. Unexplained withdrawals or transfers between accounts, unpaid bills, a change in spending habits could all be indicators of problems. The appearance of previously uninvolved relatives or ‘close friends’ may also be a red flag.  More subtle indicators could include an increasing reluctance to talk openly with family or friends, a lack of self-confidence, or increasing reluctance to spend money, even on necessities.  Awareness of possible warning signs is important; they may be easily overlooked if are not alert to the potential signs.

If you suspect financial abuse of an elderly person you need to report it as soon as possible. Depending on the nature of the abuse you could report it to the Police or Adult Social Services at the local council. Helplines including Action on Elder Abuse (0808 808 8141) and Age UK (0800 678 1174) are available to provide advice

If you are concerned that family or friends may try to interfere with your decisions over finances, we are here to help and advise on ways to protect your finances and future wishes.  We also offer advice on how to recover assets where there has been financial abuse. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 01325 466794. 

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