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Charities should look out for scammers

We often read in the papers of cases where people have been accused of taking advantage of their position as “attorney”. A power of attorney is when one person is appointed by another to manage their affairs, should they not be mentally capable of doing so themselves because of illness or accident.

Just last month, in the case The Public Guardian v JW, a businessman had his power of attorney over his mother’s finances revoked after allegations of misconduct. But this case is one of many, as the courts often deal with unscrupulous characters who have used their positions as an attorney to transfer funds and assets from the person’s estate into their own name. The impact on charities? They’re losing out in cases where they had been set to inherit from the estate in a person’s will.

The problem is there’s little a charity can do to challenge this. Many will be losing out on legacies unknowingly as these scams tend to occur before a person dies and before details of the will are released.

But some charities are taking steps to protect them and their members against such con artists. Take, for example, The Alzheimer’s Society. The charity recently warned that financial abuse is rife amongst Alzheimer’s sufferers. It urged social care professionals to look out for elderly people living on their own as they may be more susceptible to manipulation.

Indications of financial abuse could include sudden changes in monetary arrangements, relatives or friends suddenly moving into the property and taking control of finances and the patient exhibiting signs of confusion over money.

Charities, particularly those working with elderly or incapacitated people, could help society win the fight against financial abuse by advising staff on the signs to look out for when someone is being scammed. Reporting any suspicions to the police or the Office of the Public Guardian will also improve the chances of a criminal being caught before it’s too late.

Unfortunately monetary scams on vulnerable people do happen, and some cases will affect charities and their legacies. But any work that charities can do to raise public awareness of these criminal acts, and of how to spot potential financial abuse, will certainly help in the fight to reduce crime against vulnerable members of society.

Tara McInnes is an associate in the dispute resolution team at Gardner Leader solicitors