A woman stole nearly £100,000 from a widow in her eighties to fund a spending spree on clothes, a holiday and dating websites, a court heard.
Fiona Louise Harwood, from Pembrokeshire, had started out as a part-time cleaner for the victim but over a number of years she struck up a friendship with the woman and started siphoning off thousands of pounds from her accounts.
By the time the fraud was discovered, the elderly woman had just £6,000 left in her account and had even amended her will to leave Harwood her house after her death.
Harwood, of High Street in Neyland, had been “informally” caring for the widow after the death of the pensioner’s husband in 2016 and had been claiming a carer’s allowance. Her fraud only came to light when the elderly woman obtained her bank statements to find four pages-worth of payments to Debenhams, Amazon, Next, Joules and even online dating sites.
As well as using the victim’s card to go shopping, financial checks showed Harwood had withdrawn £18,676 from ATMs, and transferred £50,300 to her own account.
Harwood, 50, was jailed for 28 months on September 25 after pleading guilty to charges at Swansea Crown Court.
She had been arrested on suspicion of fraud in February 2019 and later claimed she had been giving money to another woman from the victim’s account.
She was charged with fraud by abuse of position, and two counts of fraud by false representation – opening a Next account and Debenhams account in the victim’s name.
Dyfed Powys Police sergeant Stuart Wheeler, who investigated the claims of fraud, said: “This was a saddening investigation to work on, as it transpired the suspect had blatantly abused the trust of a vulnerable elderly woman who believed she could depend on her.
“Before coming to police, the victim had become aware that she hadn’t received a bank statement for over a year, and asked a friend to help her look into it.
“It transpired that the victim’s friend had been alerted to suspicious financial activity around six months earlier, when a Debenhams statement was received showing purchases made at the firm’s Exeter branch. Not only did the victim not hold an account with Debenhams, but the friend was aware that Harwood had recently visited the city.
“After contacting the bank for up-to-date statements, the friend saw there was a huge shortfall from the victim’s accounts, with just £6,000 remaining across an ISA, savings and current account.”
Officers visited the victim, who told them she had known Harwood for many years and had employed her to clean her home and named her as her power of attorney after her husband died.
“The sum of money missing from the victim’s accounts far surpassed what would have been spent in caring for the victim,” PS Wheeler added.
“She had taken advantage of a friend in an appalling way. In being granted power of attorney, the defendant was expected to safeguard the financial interests of the victim, not use the position for her own gain.
“I have no doubt that this criminal behaviour would have continued if the victim’s friend had not become suspicious that something wasn’t right.
“We hope this sentence goes to show that committing fraud of this nature will not be tolerated.”