Protecting those with dementia from scams

Today, 15th June, is World Elder Abuse Day – a day which aims to focus global attention on the problem of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of older generations. The 2017 theme underscores the importance of preventing financial exploitation.

In his guest blog Paul Holland, Principal Prevention Officer with East Renfrewshire Council talks about an upcoming project to develop a preventative approach to protect people with dementia from financial exploitation.

On World Elder Abuse Day it is important to recognise tackling scams and protecting older people from financial harm as a big part of promoting a good later life for all. This is something I am very much aware of in my role in The Prevention Team for East Renfrewshire Council.  I have seen the terrible consequences of older people being the victims of scams, but I’ve also seen the benefits to older people of taking relatively simple measures to protect them from nuisance calls and scammers.

Seeing the benefits to older people of protecting them from scammers made me determined to ensure that more is done throughout Scotland to protect vulnerable people from financial abuse. That’s why I am delighted to be the Co-Ordinator of a new project funded by the Life Changes Trust to work in collaboration with Angus and South Ayrshire Council, to develop a preventative approach to protect people with dementia from financial exploitation. We are also looking forward to working with Age Scotland’s Early Stage Dementia Project to ensure the Charity’s member groups have more information about our work, as it will benefit very many older people and not only people with dementia.

People living with dementia are at great risk of falling prey to scammers and carers are often very worried about how to prevent their relative becoming a victim of a scam, particularly in the early stages of dementia when a person still has capacity but may not always have sufficient understanding to exercise good judgement.

The aim of this project is to offer people with dementia an individualised, person-centred package to safeguard them from financial exploitation, on the doorstep, by telephone, by mail or online.

Each local authority area will bring together local and national organisations to develop and deliver a package of preventive measures, including practical solutions and various types of useful technology, for example, call blockers. Call blockers screen incoming phone calls and either block any unknown or unauthorised numbers or transfer them to a nominated family member or guardian.

It’s vital that all adults know about what can be done to protect themselves from scams, particularly older adults, as unfortunately it is often older people who are targeted, and scammers are becoming increasing sophisticated. You can find out more about our activity to stop scams on our website. This provides advice if you are worried that you, a friend or a relative may be vulnerable to scams; tired of cold callers at the door and on the phone; looking to hire reputable traders; or want to know how to keep safe and secure in the home and online.

Over the course of our project we are also looking forward to developing more advice and information for the Charity’s member groups. Working together there is a lot we can do to stop the scammers and ensure that there are fewer victims of financial abuse.

If you have been a victim of a scam or want advice about a suspicious contact telephone Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506.  If in doubt check it out!




Raising awareness of elder abuse in BME communities

Age Scotland has supported the development of a new information pack designed to raise awareness about elder abuse within Black & Ethnic Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.

The pack, launched this week by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, has been published by the Older People Services Development Project following a consultation on what has been a hidden and unspoken issue.

The Lottery-funded Project – jointly run by the Trust Housing Association, Hanover (Scotland) Housing Association and Bield Housing and Care – has developed this information in partnership with Age Scotland to generate wider awareness of these issues, and to help identify signs of elder abuse or neglect within BME communities.

Speaking at the Elder Abuse Information Seminar in Glasgow, the Justice Secretary said: “It is profoundly chilling to think of older people in our society facing neglect and abuse.

“The information pack being launched today is a vital part of the strong, positive, message we need to get out to all victims of abuse in Scotland – you are not alone.

“The challenges identified and addressed by this information pack will play a vital role in assisting the elderly, in helping them plan for the future and feed in to our shared goal of building stronger and more resilient communities.”

The consultation revealed that, contrary to the perception BME communities ‘always look after their own’, this group of older people can face a range of difficulties. Indeed, it is sometimes the traditional reliance on family that can leave some older BME people vulnerable to financial, mental or emotional abuse.

Rohini Sharma Joshi, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion/ Manager of Trust Housing Association, said: “In BME communities, older people may already experience isolation and confusion through language and cultural barriers, and can also be denied financial independence and the means to access support or social services.

“Afraid to speak out for fear of abandonment, some of these older BME people are even unaware the problems they experience are actually termed as abuse.

Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan said:  “It is vital that we encourage those experiencing elder abuse to seek help, however, many people may not know where to turn to, especially if the person responsible is a relative or carer.

“That’s why Age Scotland was keen to ensure our Fact Sheet on Elder Abuse reached the widest possible audience.  This partnership ensures older people from across Scotland’s BME communities can access the same resources irrespective of language or access barriers.”

Superintendent Gavin Philip from Police Scotland, said “Police Scotland is committed to working with all communities to help understand the impact of elder abuse issues or concerns this problem raises.

“This seminar was an excellent opportunity to reiterate our commitment to tacking those issues and to listen to people’s concerns, with the focus being on the particular aspects surrounding elder abuse within BME communities.”

How much weight to give to an older person’s word?

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament seeks to abolish the requirement, known as corroboration, that there must always be two separate sources of evidence before a case can proceed to trial.  Derek Young weighs up the potential pros and cons for older people.


Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s ambition of removing the requirement for corroboration, which is rare around the world, has stimulated much heated debate. Some MSPs, and most judges and lawyers are opposed, fearing that its abolition will lead to miscarriages of justice. Yet the move is supported by the police and some groups representing victims of crime. So where does Age Scotland stand?

In Scots law, corroboration is the principle that two distinct sources of evidence are needed for all the key elements of a criminal offence before charges are brought and a case proceeds to trial. The principle has been part of Scots criminal law and procedure since time immemorial, and first appears in the Bible. The philosopher and legal scholar, David Hume, wrote: “our law is averse to rely on [a witness’s] single word, in any inquiry which may affect the person, liberty, or fame of his neighbour.” Equally, if an older person is wrongly accused of a crime, s/he may be glad of the corroboration rule so that the evidence of a single witness against them would not be enough to allow a conviction.

But some are not convinced of its value. The police have long-favoured abolishing it. They claim it uses up police resources and denies justice in cases where there is only one witness, and might contribute to under-reporting of crimes which are unlikely to be proved. They also say that this often happens where crimes against an individual are committed in private – such as sexual offences and child abuse.

The law on elder abuse was updated in 2007, following much campaigning by Age Scotland’s predecessor charities. But this aspect of the law was not changed. Elder abuse can take place behind closed doors, and sometimes there may be little or no supporting evidence – especially if it involves ‘hidden harms’ such as mental or emotional abuse, making threats, or withholding food or medicine. Changing the corroboration rule for these cases might help to make prosecutions possible.

However, these prosecutions would rely more than ever on the witness testimony of an older person who may have been abused. In any trial where a conviction depends this, it is likely to be in the accused’s interest to challenge the witness’s credibility or reliability. Judges or juries who see and hear frail or vulnerable witnesses, who may have difficulties hearing, or cannot easily follow complex questions put to them in court, might also doubt the witness’s memory about crucial details because of stereotypes about older people’s abilities. Prosecutors might also be reluctant to bring charges in the first place if they think there’s a real risk that an abused older person could be undermined as a witness.

We think prosecutors and judges should be aware of these risks and be prepared to take appropriate action. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service produced a welcome new guide for prosecutors on these issues last year. It’s also important that we ensure that courtrooms are not intimidating places for older victims of crime, and judges and juries should also be aware of the risks that they might be susceptible to these stereotypes.

Derek Young is Age Scotland’s Policy Officer