People living with dementia ‘sitting ducks for financial abuse’

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People living with dementia are “sitting ducks for financial abuse” because of failures by the government, financial services and retailers, according to a report.

The report, Retail Therapy by the International Longevity Centre and independent abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, highlights multiple examples of those living with dementia setting up subscriptions or direct debits after being subjected to repeated doorstep cold calls, scam letters and incessant phone calls in which they were asked to share personal financial information.

At least 900,000 people in the UK live with dementia, a number that is estimated to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

“Scams and fraud ruins hundreds of thousands of people’s lives every year and we must do more to address it,” said David Sinclair, the chief executive of the International Longevity Centre (ILCUK).

“People who find themselves victim to online and offline scams often find themselves in a vicious circle: they are added to ‘sucker lists’ by criminal gangs and repeatedly targeted,” he added.

“The subscriptions and direct debits they’re conned into setting up can be for large sums or regular small amounts, too small to draw the attention of banking staff or of carers checking statements.”

Fraud is the most common crime in the UK and can lead to victims suffering unaffordable personal losses. More than half of fraud is cyber-related and, according to further research by Age UK, people with dementia are particularly vulnerable as they can find assessing risk and managing their money difficult, especially if they live alone.

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“Shamefully, having dementia puts people at a greater risk of financial abuse and being conned out of money that could be helping them live a good quality of life and used to pay for vital help and support,” said Jaina Engineer, Knowledge Services Manager at Alzheimer’s Society.

“Online scams can be particularly dangerous for people with dementia, as they can take place with little input by the person being scammed,” Sinclair agreed.

“Unlike postal or phone scams that coerce financial information out of someone, online scammers can access financial information when an individual click on a bogus link, or opens a corrupt file.

“Once someone clicks on a fraudulent link, it can download malware to their device, which can capture data or even take control of the victim’s computer.”

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said scammers were “sophisticated criminals” who often seek out and target people living with dementia. “Scams can have a devastating emotional and financial impact on older victims, seriously damaging their quality of life, wellbeing and having a very considerable financial impact too.”

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But Karen Barker, the head of policy at the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said the “good news is there are things that government, retailers and leisure providers can do to make spending safer and more inclusive for those with dementia”.

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Barker called on the government to convene retail and leisure providers, regulators and dementia experts to develop a ‘Kitemark’ system to accredit those who sign up to a minimum standard of support for people with dementia. This, she said, would go further than the dementia-friendly scheme currently in place.

“When it comes to financial services,” she added, “The Financial Conduct Authority should require financial providers to train staff working in customer-facing roles on the Mental Capacity Act and the use of lasting power of attorneys.”

Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, said: “There is simply no excuse for companies not putting in the appropriate mechanisms to protect vulnerable consumers.

“All of us in society have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable, which includes retail companies, financial institutions, and utility companies.

“Financial abuse is all too common in dementia care, and we need everyone to take it very seriously.”

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