Durham law firm issues warning about family fraud

A Durham law firm says more and more vulnerable older people are becoming victims of fraud, carried out by members of their own families.

The warning from N E Law, based at Framwellgate Moor, comes after the charity Age UK published a report which said at least 130,000 over 65s have suffered some form of financial abuse at the hands of somebody they know.

Janet Potts, a partner at N E Law alongside Michelle Coulson and Chris Noon, said: “We’ve only been in business a relatively short time, but have already worked with clients where family members took control of finances without their permission. We are trained to look out for these issues and how to help.

“Unfortunately if they did not have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place relatives were deciding who would have what, without having the legal right to make those decisions.”N E Law partners (from left) Janet Potts, Chris Noon and Michelle Coulson

According to the Law Society, financial abuse covers a wide variety of activities from mishandling finances to fraud but “may broadly be described as a violation of an individual’s rights relating to their financial affairs or assets.”

Age UK says people with dementia or reduced cognitive function are particularly at risk of financial abuse, both by people they know as well as the growing number of fraudsters operating scams.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘An ageing population brings many positives but also challenges. “The fact that the overwhelming majority of families want only the best for their older relatives should not blind the authorities to the sad reality, which is that financial abuse does sometimes happen in families, just as we know other forms of abuse do too.”

Age UK says the banking industry must improve its protocols and staff training to recognise the tell-tale signs of financial abuse and to assist its older customers.

It wants other professionals – including the police and health, social and legal services – who come into contact with older people to be given appropriate training as well.

MPs have added their weight to Age UK’s concerns.  During a House of Commons debate they also called on the financial institutions and communications industry to do more to protect vulnerable people who are targeted by scam calls, posts and visits.

N E Law partner Chris Noon said: “The reality is that people need to look after themselves by completing a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) whilst they still have the capacity.  It’s all about planning for the future and having their voice heard.

“Unfortunately there are probably many more victims of financial abuse who are too embarrassed to report what’s happened.”

A new national campaign called Take Five, urging people of all ages to take time before providing personal details or responding to financial requests, has also been launched after it was revealed that there was a financial scam every 15 seconds during the first six months of the year.

As well as urging people to take control of their affairs whilst they still can, N E Law is also helping those affected by dementia.  It is sponsoring a Dementia Café, run by the home care service Home Instead, where support and advice will be given to anybody who cares for someone with dementia, and for people living with, or know somebody living with dementia.

“N E Law is all about providing a personal service,” said Michelle Coulson. “We also like to think we’re a bit different and clients benefit from our range of experiences. Chris, for example, was a teacher before becoming a solicitor and Janet worked in the legal department at Durham County Council.”

She added: “It’s almost a throwback to the days when a local community was served by a doctor, a bank manager and a lawyer.  These were people you could trust to turn to when you needed help and who knew you and your family personally.”

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