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Eventually, a person with dementia will need someone else to manage their money. Sadly this can put them at risk of financial abuse if they trust the wrong person, says Olivia Nash

A person with dementia may have little choice but to rely solely on others to handle their financial affairs. In a survey conducted by King’s College for the Alzheimer’s Society in 2011, it was revealed that 76 per cent of those with dementia had struggled to manage their finances.

The Alzheimer’s Society says that having dementia puts people at greater risk of financial abuse, making it harder for them to judge risk, while the illness also makes it more difficult for them to detect when something is wrong.

Financial abuse

Sadly, financial abuse of the elderly is not uncommon. The charity Action on Elder Abuse reports that 20 per cent of calls to its helpline concern financial abuse. A report by King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research conducted in March 2007 revealed that financial abuse was the second most common form of mistreatment for those living at home. The study estimated that 57,000 people aged 66 and over in the UK had suffered financial abuse by a friend, relative or care worker in the past year, and 105,000 had experienced financial abuse since reaching the age of 65.

Dishonest children

The study also showed that over 50 per cent of financial abuse is committed by a grown-up son or daughter. Nearly 70 per cent of financial abuse is by a family member.

If you suspect someone of financial wrongdoing, you may be scared to confront them, knowing it could cause great distress to the family. But it’s essential to trust your instincts and deal with any situation that doesn’t feel right. The sooner you speak up the better.

Sadly I learned this from personal experience. My elderly mother was the victim of financial abuse by my sister. When my father died, she insisted on handling all of mum’s paperwork and refused any help.

Not only did she steal all of mum’s savings but she also stole her private pension, making large ATM withdrawals every month without her knowledge. She had re-directed mum’s mail to her home, so that mum didn’t receive any bank statements, then used the re-direct facility to order a new debit card and PIN number. She also ran up an overdraft in mum’s name of £15,000, despite mum never even applying for an overdraft.

Growing suspicious

The truth only came out when mum’s health deteriorated. Mum had vascular dementia and needed 24-hour care, so I asked her about her finances. She fobbed me off and I became suspicious. With mum’s consent, I applied for third party access to her account. Seeing repeated large cash withdrawals on her bank statements was devastating but even more difficult was telling mum what I’d discovered. She was heartbroken.

The bank didn’t want to get involved in what they considered to be a family dispute. They would only investigate the theft if we reported the matter to the police and gave them a crime reference number. We had no choice.

After a four-month battle, the bank waived the £15,000 debt. But mum never got her savings back or the money my sister had withdrawn from the ATM machines.

The struggle for justice

The police investigation went nowhere. The investigating officer told me mum wouldn’t be a reliable witness as she had dementia. Because of her illness, my sister had been able to get away with a crime against her own mother.

I was determined to protect mum from further abuse. I made sure her debit cards were stopped and we opened up a new bank account. I also applied for Lasting Power of Attorney, which was granted.

I wish I had insisted on seeing mum’s bank statements from the beginning but I trusted my sister. In the end I could only try to prevent further theft from occurring.

Since this occurred four years ago, my mum and I have heard nothing from my sister. A few months ago I heard from another family relative that she was moving house. We have no idea where she is today and I have had to take on the role of being solely responsible for my mother’s wellbeing. She has never attempted to contact either of us to apologise.

She did try to contact me when she realised I’d first discovered the theft, but I believe this is because she was concerned about the consequences with the police. At the time, the police told me not to talk to her until they had investigated the matter. Frankly, I don’t want to have any contact with her as I don’t think she would show any remorse. I think she genuinely felt she was entitled to the money.

What to do

If you think that someone is the victim of financial abuse, here are some things you can do:

• If you suspect theft from a bank account, speak to the victim’s bank straight away.
• Cancel all debit cards immediately.
• Obtain third party access on the person’s account so that you can monitor their finances.
• Apply for sole Lasting Power of Attorney.
• If theft has occurred, report the matter to the police and obtain a crime reference number for the bank.

Protect yourself

If you’re in the early stages of dementia and are worried about someone taking advantage of your finances, Action on Elder Abuse has these tips to protect you from financial abuse.

• Always open and post your own mail if you can.
• If you have someone looking after your finances, make sure they explain the details of your finances to you.
• Check your bank balance regularly.
• Never give anyone your PIN number.
• Never sign blank cheques.
• Have more than one person to help with your finances.
• Don’t sign any legal documents until you have received advice from a solicitor.

For more help…

Speak to the Action on Elder Abuse helpline on 0808 808 8141 or Age UK’s advice line on 0800 169 6565. Speak to the Citizens Advice Bureau for general money management advice.
For information on a Lasting Power of Attorney, click here.