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Equity Release - watch out for the fraud trap

I joined the ERC Consumer Protection Working Group (back then known as the anti-fraud working group) on its inception, thinking it would be a largely quiet committee. How wrong I was.

Over the past few years it has become evident that fraud, whilst still only a relatively small percentage of issued cases, is growing. The defrauders are not only sophisticated groups based abroad - a frightening number stem from within the inner circle of borrowers' friends and immediate family.

It is extremely difficult to spot fraud cases, and often suspected fraud transpires to be family merely assisting aged relatives. As professionals, financial advisers and Solicitors alike are actively encouraged to involve family in meetings and discussions but therein we could be assisting with the fraud, so it is a fine line to tread. I take the view that whilst I am happy for family to attend a meeting I will always ensure that I take time to see the borrowers alone to check for fraud/undue pressure.

So, are there any tell-tale signs? The simple answer is no, but do tread carefully if:

1. You are not able to see the borrowers alone, or if obstacles are put in your way to seeing them alone.
2. All communication is done via the family contact - even if the borrowers are frail it is vital that some contact is made with them.
3. I am always overly cautious if funds are being gifted away and if the recipient is the one doing all the running around.
4. The point of contact is saying it is urgent and becoming aggressive. We often see this and whilst, on occasion, it may be urgent this behaviour does put us on our guard.
5. Funds are requested to be paid directly to family - again there may be a genuine reason, but we are alert to this.

Sadly there are no hard and fast rules to spot fraud cases; often it may be an instinct that a case does not stack up. Sometimes it is impossible to spot with sophisticated fraud, you can only be alert. If you are in doubt and want to run a scenario past me please do feel free to do so.

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