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Charities and families have warned of a rise in so-called predatory marriage – where fraudsters target older and vulnerable people, hoping to marry them and pocket their life savings.
Research conducted by the i Newspaper found more than 70 people who shared tales of their loved ones being lured into such predatory marriages.
Campaigners are now calling for changes to marriage laws to provide stricter checks on whether people are mentally capable of agreeing to marry and to help protect the vulnerable from predators.
The issue was also raised at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) recently by Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East, who highlighted the case of Joan Blass, a 91-year-old constituent of his.
Ms Blass was suffering from advanced vascular dementia and, when she died in March 2016, her family was appalled to discover she had been “secretly married” five months earlier to a man more than 20 years her junior.
A legal loophole meant the marriage revoked Joan’s previous will, which had left her estate to her son and daughter, with her new husband inheriting everything.
Among those who have come forward since Mr Hamilton raised the issue in parliament is one daughter who said her father had been targeted and then married by a predatory woman.
“He was persuaded to attend a new church, a false narrative was spun and two members of the congregation agreed to be witnesses at the registry office,” she told the i.
“When a frail, elderly person appears at the registry office without a member of his loving, attentive family, the registrar ought to be able to check whether the person has been flagged up as vulnerable and not go ahead with the ceremony without further enquiries.
Speaking to the newspaper, Joel Lewis, policy manager at Age UK said the cases highlight the scale of financial abuse of older people.
“Fraudsters can befriend and effectively groom an older person for financial gain and they prey on potentially vulnerable people,” he said.
“They often gaslight and manipulate them and remove them from sources of support so they place all their trust in the fraudster rather than family members looking out for them.
“These cases are the tip of the iceberg as they are just the ones people know about.”
Mr Hamilton, meanwhile, has met with Justice Minister Lord Wolfson to talk about the issue of predatory marriage, with the pair discussing how they could work together to end financial exploitation through marriage.
“We discussed ways in which the law could be changed around testamentary capacity in order to protect the vulnerable and discourage those who prey upon them,” Mr Hamilton added.