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Fraud and Risk Focus Blog

Expert blog series: Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

11 August 2016

If I apply for a loan, or spend money in your name: that’s fraud. It’s not simple to fight, but it’s simple to understand the principles at stake.

But what if the person taking out loans or spending your money were to share not just your name, address and date of birth, but also your DNA?

That’s what it can feel like to many people who’ve experienced a serious bout of poor mental health. People who have bipolar often spend or borrow thousands during what’s known as a “manic phase”. During a period of depression, many people find themselves spending more than they can afford in largely futile attempts to alleviate their symptoms. And addictions, personality disorders and psychosis can all lead to serious financial jeopardy, too.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has been set up by Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com to help break this devastating link between mental health conditions and financial trouble. We will conduct research to better understand the problems people face, enabling us to develop new ways of regulating, monitoring, and designing financial services products to help protect people.

Most mental health conditions fluctuate; individuals will have periods, sometimes years at a time, when they are healthy, and able to manage their finances in exactly the same way as everyone else. But there will be periods of time when they are unwell, during which it is possible to do immense financial harm.

We are looking for tools which can be put in place during a period of good mental health, either alone or with the support of a carer or trusted friend, which then prevent or reduce the incidence of financially harmful behaviour during a period of poor mental health.

One example we’re looking at would apply to credit cards. An individual who knows they are at risk of excess spending could inform their card provider, and ask them to alert not the cardholder, but a nominated third party, in the event of unsual spending patterns. The card would be frozen until that third party verified that the cardholder was not in crisis.

Last month we launched a consultation paper, In Control, looking at this and a host of other ideas for helping people with mental health problems stay on top of their spending when they are unwell. 

This is where we need help from the fraud prevention industry. Of course, fraud is different from mental health crisis spending. But the techniques used to detect and protect against fraud could, we believe, be repurposed to identify and protect against unusual patterns of financial behaviour associated with poor mental health. If you have ideas or suggestions for our work, please get in touch.

We need your help and creativity to start this journey.

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Posted by: Polly Mackenzie

Polly is Director of Money and Mental Health.

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Posted by: Polly Mackenzie

Polly is Director of Money and Mental Health.

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