Financial exploitation

In this section

  • Overview
  • Forms of financial exploitation
  • National and local update
  • Vulnerability to financial exploitation
  • Locations where financial exploitation takes place
  • Signs of exploitation
  • Case study
  • Links with other forms of exploitation
  • More information

  • Overview

    Key points about financial exploitation

    • financial exploitation happens when someone is deceived or coerced into handing over monetary funds or assets
    • it can happen through fraud, blackmail, accumulating debts, or having money or property stolen – this includes situations where someone feels pressured into handing over money or property
    • financial exploitation can happen online, via email, telephone, post, or in person
    • face-to-face financial exploitation may be carried out by doorstep callers or by people known to the person such as family, friends and carers
    • financial exploitation often involves grooming – fraudsters may seek to befriend someone and establish a relationship of companionship and trust to gain access to the person’s money and property
    • financial exploitation can have a huge impact on people’s standard of living, finances, mental and physical health.

    Why are people targetted for fiancial exploitation?

    • to gain control of money or property
    • to gain power and control over someone – for example in a domestically abusive relationship
    • as part of wider exploitation – for example, becoming indebted to a county lines drug gang or being a victim of labour exploitation and having wages confiscated by an employer
    • financial exploitation can affect anyone, but within the UK older people are disproportionately affected
      • the average age of a victim is seventy-four
      • fifty-three percent of victims are aged sixty-five and over (Chartered Trading Standards Institute, 2018).

  • Forms of financial exploitation

    Scams

    • deceiving someone into handing over money or assets through falsely promising them a product, investment or relationship
    • cams are designed to groom victims into believing that the offer is trustworthy and will provide a worthwhile reward
    • read more about common types of scams.

    Money laundering

    • forcing someone to keep hold of funds from criminal activities, including through bank transfers
    • people who seem like they are short of money may be targeted by money launderers – such as people who are not in work, have a low income, students and young people
    • money laundering can also be part of county lines exploitation as drug gangs seek ways to hide the money they have made from drug activities.

    Unregulated loans

    • loans offered by companies or people (including ‘loan sharks’) to people who have an urgent need for money and cannot borrow from a bank or building society- they usually require little or no paperwork and have very high interest rates which are difficult to repay
    • intimidation, threats and violence are used to force people to make repayments
    • loan sharks will often appear friendly and trustworthy until repayments are missed
    • people often hear about loan sharks through family or friends, who are themselves unaware of the exploitative nature of the loans.

    Debt

    • people who are financially exploited may develop debts
    • this could happen through taking out an unregulated loan, being forced to take on someone else’ debts, or having money taken from them so they don’t have enough money for day-to-day expenses.

    Control over financial assets

    • this can include restrictions on day-to-day spending, being forced to give others access to bank accounts and saving, or being forced to give others money or property
    • it can be a part of domestically abusive relationships
    • it can happen to someone who as a financial guardianship arrangement (these are established when someone is unable to manage their financial assets, for example by appointing a power of attorney).

    Blackmail

    • using the threat of harm or embarrassment to force someone to hand over financial assets or take on another person’s debts.

  • National and local update

    How is financial exploitation currently taking place?

    • the most common form of scam-related financial exploitation is banking and payment card fraud (ONS, 2018)
    • only five percent of scams are reported so true scale of financial exploitation is largely unknown (Chartered Trading Standards Institute, 2018).
    • people who are financially exploited often feel embarrassed or guilty, and are less likely to report the incident
    • perpetrators target vulnerable people who may not realise that they have been financially exploited or feel able to report what has happened.
    • ‘suckers lists’ are used by scammers to identify people who may be easier to exploit – these lists include the details of individuals who have previously been the victim of a scam. They are shared between fraudsters, resulting in the repeated targeting and exploitation of vulnerable people.

    Opportunities for financial exploitation are increasing

    • this in part due to the growth of online communication, banking and shopping
    • scams are also becoming more sophisticated, with more convincing websites, letters and official documents
    • an increasing elderly population, many of whom may be isolated or may have cognitive impairments, is creating more targets for exploitation
    • COVID-19 has increased vulnerability to scams and fraud – through the growth of COVID-related scams (such as vaccine scams) and through exploiting people’s increased use of internet to communicate and buy products and services.

  • Factors increasing vulnerability

    People may be at greater risk of financial exploitation if, for example

    • they are elderly
    • they have support from other people – for example, if they receive care, practical support or emotional support, or receive help with managing their finances
    • they have experienced a challenging life event, such as loss of employment, a divorce, or a bereavement
    • they are experiencing difficulties when managing money
    • they are isolated or lonely – people may value the social contact offered by people to seek to exploit them (social contact and offers of friendship often form part of the grooming process).
    • they have a learning difficulty or cognitive impairment (those who are elderly and have reduced cognitive function are particularly at risk)
    • they are a carer – the person someone cares may have been a target of financial exploitation
    • they have previous experience of being financially exploited – they may be viewed as a vulnerable target
    • they are vulnerable to, or a victim of, modern slavery (especially labour exploitation)
    • they are involved in drug trafficking or dealing, including county lines activities
    • they are involved in a gang.

  • Locations where financial exploitation takes place

    People can be targeted by financial exploitation in many settings including

    • care settings, including residential homes
    • the doorstep – especially through postal scams and door-to-door sales people
    • the home
    • the internet and email
    • the telephone
    • the workplace – for example if someone is the victim of labour exploitation
    • gang membership – gang members may financially exploit someone as a means of exercising power and control.

  • Signs of exploitation

    Common signs that may indicate someone is being exploited include those listed below.

    This not an exhaustive list and warning signs will show differently in each person. It’s important to explore all concerns over someone’s behaviour and personal circumstances and consider whether they could be signs of exploitation.

    Appearance, behaviour and personal situation

    • experiencing a sudden deterioration in health, wellbeing, independence, standard of living or ability to manage finances
    • appearing more withdrawn, stressed or anxious
    • mention of a new ‘friend’ – this friendship may have been established on the telephone or online
    • mention of helping a friend, relative or acquaintance through giving them money.

    Financial circumstances

    • changes in bank account funds, including unexplained withdrawals
    • control of finances moving to a family member or other responsible adult, especially if this has been done without explanation or consent
    • inclusion of additional names on bank accounts
    • sudden changes to, or the creation of, a will or other financial document
    • unpaid bills or rent, despite having the financial means to do so.

    Other signs

    • attempts made by care giver to isolate someone from their family and friends
    • disappearance of someone’s money, personal belongings or financial documents
    • noticing that someone has difficulty understanding or explaining their current financial situation, especially if this has changed
    • presence of another person when someone makes financial transactions of withdrawals
    • purchasing or receiving items which, considering someone’s personal or financial circumstances, seem unsuitable or excessive
    • receipt of an unusual amount of mail, emails or telephone calls
    • signatures on cheques or official documents that do not look like the person’s signature, or which have been provided by someone who has difficulty writing.

  • Case study

    ‘Norman’

    Norman was 85 years old and was a carer for his wife, who had dementia.

    Norman started receiving telephone calls from some people about an opportunity to pay money into an overseas lottery scheme. The scammers made regular contact with Norman and he came to view them as friends who wanted to help him out.

    He referred to them as ‘bankers’ and started paying them money, believing it would enable him to one day win the lottery. With his wife ‘s condition deteriorating she required care home admission, and Norman intended to use his eventual winnings to financially support them both.

    Norman’s friends and family became aware that he was paying money to these ‘bankers’, and were concerned that he was being exploited by a scam. With the help of professionals they tried to explain to him that he was being financially exploited. However, Norman continued to view the scammers as friends and remained convinced that he would eventually win the lottery that he believed he had been paying into.

    Norman kept transferring huge amounts of money into the lottery scam. This included his wife’s money which, due to her illness, he had accepted responsibility for managing. One several occasions the scammers persuaded him to travel to London to deposit money in back-street sex shops.

    Due to the large payments he was making to the scammers, Norman  started to accumulate debt. He became overdrawn on his bank account and developed debts with the local authority when he stopped paying his care home fees.  He also stopped paying utility bills, further increasing his debt.

    When Norman’s wife passed away Norman continued to pay into the lottery scam, now using her inheritance. He still believed that he would win the lottery, and intended to donate this money to ‘good causes’. He eventually began seeking advice regarding releasing equity from his house in order to keep paying the scammers.

    Family, friends and professionals remained highly concerned for Norman. Despite their attempts to help him understand that he was being exploited he had continued to send money to the scammers. It became clear that without multi-agency interventions Norman risked being stripped of all his financial assets. The decision was therefore made to refer Norman into adult safeguarding. This enabled actions to be taken to safeguard him from the scammers.

    This case study is based on a number of real cases which have occurred in Devon. In the interest of confidentiality all names and other identifying features are fictional.

    More case studies can be found in the following documents and websites:

  • Links with other forms of exploitation

    • financial exploitation may accompany other forms of exploitation, abuse and violence – including modern slavery, sexual exploitation and county lines, where it can be used to control the victim and prevent them from leaving the exploitative situation
    • this is particularly the case if someone accumulates debt, as the need for more funds to repay the debt can draw them deeper into exploitation
    • financial exploitation can escalate into other forms of exploitation, abuse and violence if debts are not repaid – for example, the exploiter may demand work or sexual favours as recompense.

  • More information

    The following resources and websites provide more information about financial exploitation

    The following organisations provide support to people experiencing financial exploitation