How to protect a vulnerable person from becoming a scam victim

Nicola August

Partner & Head of Vulnerable Client

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October 18, 2016

Categories Elderly and Vulnerable Clients

Unfortunately millions of people in the country have become a victim of a scam and sadly the elderly and vulnerable people are often the most targeted.  This can be by way of a letter, telephone call or even doorstep scams. The bogus traders make false promises to con victims out of money which most commonly includes fake lotteries, deceptive prize draws and computer scams. This is extremely distressing and worrying for the victim as well as the victim’s families. This can result in several thousands of pounds being lost.  It has become a serious problem causing mental and financial devastation to a large number of elderly and vulnerable people.

What action can be taken to avoid becoming a victim of scams?

We would recommend that the vulnerable person seriously considers completing a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs appointing an attorney to manage his or her (“the donor”) finances when help is required.  This will enable the attorney to act on the donor’s behalf and make decisions if they feel unable to do so for themselves, or they require the attorney’s help and assistance in making a decision.

The donor would still be able to have control over his or her affairs and be able to continue to manage their financial affairs alongside the appointed attorney which may prove extremely beneficial if there are concerns that the donor may have become a victim of a scam.

The attorney can then take the anxiety and distress away from the donor and deal direct with financial institutions on the donor’s behalf.

In the circumstances where the donor is a scam victim, the attorney could contact the National Trading’s Standards Scams Team which is tackling the problem of postal, telephone and doorstep scams.  This team works across England and Wales with Trading Standards to investigate scams and identify and support those who fall victim to them.

It is estimated that losses incurred by scam victims reach up to 10 billion pounds a year!  Criminals contact the most fragile and vulnerable persons, whose details they have obtained from a mailing list.  Some victims receive over 100 scam letters a day from all over the world and also receive numerous international telephone calls throughout the day and night.

The scam can take several forms but the most common seems to be that the fraudster “befriends” the elderly or vulnerable person and then persuades him or her to send money in order to unlock a valuable and guaranteed prize which they have supposedly won.  Of course no prize is forthcoming and the fraudster has then obtained personal information and bank details from the victim.

These terrible scams have a devastating effect on the victim and also the victim’s family.  By the donor completing a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs, the attorney may be able to identify any potential scam on behalf of the vulnerable person.  Many elderly people are unaware that they are a scam victim and they consider that they are simply very close to winning a valuable prize, which of course is non-existent.

Choosing your attorney

When completing a Lasting Power of Attorney, the donor should choose a person they can trust implicitly to look after their financial affairs in the future.  One or more attorneys can be appointed and replacement attorneys can be named within the document in the event that the original attorney is unable to act. The attorney must always act in the donor’s best interests and comply with the principles set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and also the guidance contained in the Code of Practice.

Attorneys can act jointly or alternatively jointly and severally which means that either one of them will be able to make decisions on behalf of the donor.

Can the attorney also make health and care decisions?

There are two types of Lasting Powers of Attorney, one for property and financial affairs and the other relates to health care and personal welfare. The attorney under a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney can only act if the donor lacks capacity to make the specific decision in question. This could include the choice of nursing or residential care home; who should visit the donor; what medical treatment is required and can include life sustaining treatment decisions.

Registration of Lasting Powers of Attorney

Before the attorney can act, the Lasting Powers of Attorney must be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. This takes several weeks to complete as there is a statutory waiting period required by the Court before the registered document is issued.  This is to allow any person to raise an objection against the registration if they choose to do so.

What if a person is incapable of managing his or her affairs?

If due to the impairment of the mind or brain a person is incapable of managing their financial affairs and no Lasting Power of Attorney has been completed, then an application to the Court of Protection will be required so that the Court can appoint a property and affairs deputy.  The deputy will then have the required legal authority to look after the affairs of the incapacitated person and make decisions on his her or behalf, subject to the provisions of the Court Order.

What to do if you, or a friend, or relative is concerned that you may be a scam victim

If you are concerned that someone you know may be a victim of a scam then you can contact any one of the following to obtain professional support and advice, or to report suspicious activity:

If you require any advice on this matter please contact the Vulnerable Client Team on 01227 763939.