AN advocate of the elderly in Cork has warned against the “financial abuse” being endured by elderly people on a weekly basis.
Paddy O’Brien raised concerns in relation to people nominated by an elderly person to collect their pension or withdraw money from their account acting “like the good samaritan” all the while stealing from them.
Mr O’Brien called on the Department of Justice and the Law Society of Ireland to “examine the whole situation regarding accounts of elderly people in banks, post offices, and credit unions to ensure that no other source other than the elderly person benefits from the proceeds”.
He said that some elderly are too afraid to speak out against the people who are committing such offences as many are family members, friends, or neighbours.
“Many elderly people allow a person to withdraw money on their behalf due to the fact that they are housebound or unable to travel.
“These are not isolated cases, and I have spoken on numerous occasions for many years about people taking awful advantage and taking sums of money from an elderly person, some are relatives and some are friends.
“These people act as the good samaritan, but only a portion of the money is going back to the elderly person. This is nothing else than financial abuse,” he said.
Head of advocacy and communication at Age Action, Celine Clarke, said that this is something she sees and is “aware of”.
The organisation has seen an increase in the number of people getting in contact in relation to elder abuse in the last year.
In 2019, a total of 33 calls in relation to elder abuse were received by Age Action, which increased to 73 calls in 2020.
Ms Clarke said that financial elder abuse is the unauthorised or improper use of a person’s funds, property, pension, or benefits and that it can be “really subtle or it can build up overtime”.
“Anyone dealing with the finance of another should always be able to provide proper paper and electronic records for any transaction and if there’s a blunder or failure to do that, it would be a good indicator that either the person is perhaps dishonest or careless,” she said.
“It’s difficult when the transaction is cash-based, then receipts can change. It’s very difficult for older people to find someone they can trust because this sort of situation does leave them in a vulnerable situation.
“It is something we see and we’re aware of. Safeguarding Ireland ran a campaign in October encouraging people to take back control and advising people who may be relying on someone to manage their financial affairs at the start of the pandemic to assess the situation and regain control of their finances if they’re in a position to do so, and if an older person has concerns they should speak to a trusted third party such as a friend or financial institution such as a credit union or if they’re dealing with a post office they may know the postmaster or postmistress there,” Ms Clarke said.
She said that in the case of a pension they can also speak to the Department of Social Protection.
“For them to have nominated a person to pick up their pension they would have had to fill in a form so they can update their information with the DSP and cancel that if they wanted to,” she said.
Ms Clarke said that over 50% of over 65-year-olds experience digital exclusion which is why they choose to pick up their pension in cash as opposed to having it lodged in a bank account or a credit union.
“They should be able to express their concerns and insist on proper records and details of transactions with whoever it is they’re dealing with, but we understand that this is complicated and when you’re relying on somebody to do something for you you are in a vulnerable situation.
“We would always say that older people themselves need to be aware, but all of us need to be aware that this can lead to exploitation and financial elder abuse and to be mindful and to call it out,” she said.
An Garda Síochána advised those who believe they are a victim of fraud to report the incident to their local Garda station.