Elderly at risk of tap and pay scam
Elderly are unaware of new system that does not require a pin number
Elderly people who have contactless bank cards risk having cash stolen from their accounts by unscrupulous family members who prey on their lack of digital awareness.
As "tap to pay" cards hit the mainstream, experts are warning that the technology could expose victims of financial elder abuse to a new form of exploitation.
Those who wish to steal cash no longer need to know a PIN code, and payments per transaction can be authorised up to €30.
Age Action launched a new campaign last month to highlight abuse of older people when it comes to their money.
The contactless cards contain a tiny radio receiver which, when swiped within a couple of centimetres of a machine or checkout terminal, can be used to make a payment. Latest figures show the number of weekly contactless payments in the six months to March was 1.3 million.
However, many older people are unaware they possess a contactless card and do not understand the technology.
It is standard practice for most banks to replace lost, stolen or expired cards with tap-to-pay cards.
Peter Kavanagh, of Active Retirement Ireland, said: "We greatly welcomed the arrival of chip and pin when it was introduced, because it added an extra layer of security.
"While contactless does increase convenience, it makes it far more likely they can be taken advantage of.
"The vast majority of financial elder abuse cases are committed by a family member or a carer who is in close proximity to an older person."
This kind of theft often occurs when a family member collects an elderly person's pension on their behalf.
"They collect the €230, but then might slip an extra €30 in their pocket," said Mr Kavanagh. "They justify it by saying to themselves, 'Ah, sure, mum's not going to use it all'.
"A lot of elderly people make their pin and card available to the person doing their shopping, and they can be taken advantage of. Also, a significant number of people haven't taken up the offer to have the pension paid directly into their bank. Family members who are committing this kind of abuse are dehumanising that individual."
Mr Kavanagh said a lack of "digital awareness" among the elderly remains an area of concern.
"Because they may not be digitally savvy, they're not in constant control of their finances. They can't look up their balance online. When they send someone to do the shopping for them, they're unable to check that the amount deducted from the account matches the receipt."
Age Action launched a campaign last month to highlight the financial abuse of the elderly, which affected about 500 people in 2014, according to HSE figures.
The group said the problem is widespread, and in the vast majority of cases it is an immediate family member carrying out the abuse.
Age Action's Justin Moran said the worst case they had dealt with involved an elderly woman who was intimidated out of her home.
"She ended up in sheltered housing and her son moved into the house," he said.
Solicitor John Costello, of Orpen Franks, said the passing of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 last December will go a long way to helping victims.
"It's going to give added protection to elderly people who find themselves in these situations," he said. "The vulnerable person can appoint an assistant decision-maker, who can make inquiries in abuse situations.
"Once this act is up and running, there will be greater protection for victims of financial elder abuse."