The many faces of elder financial abuse

Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse in Canada. Learn how to identify and prevent it, plus where to go for help if you or an older person you know is being financially exploited.

The many faces of abuse

What does the face of financial abuse of the elderly look like? It can take many forms – from financial exploitation to outright criminal fraud.

  • It’s the door-to-door saleswoman who persuades a 92-year old to buy energy efficient roofing because it will pay for itself over 20 years.
  • It’s the friendly seniors centre volunteer who offers to help seniors manage their banking – only to drain the accounts dry.
  • It’s the scammer who extorts money from a 75-year old pretending to be a relative in trouble abroad or someone from the taxTax A fee the government charges on income, property, and sales. The money goes to finance government programs and other costs.+ read full definition department.
  • It’s the financial advisor who recommends unnecessary trades to increase her fees.
  • It’s the son who abuses his power of attorneyPower of attorney A written authorization for another person to make financial and health care decisions for you if you are not able. Rules vary from province to province.+ read full definition for his dad to finance his own lifestyle.
  • It’s the caregiver who gets her client to loanLoan An agreement to borrow money for a set period of time. You agree to pay back the full amount, plus interest, by a set date.+ read full definition her a large amount of money.

Who are the victims?

Anyone can fall victim to financial abuse, but older Canadians are often targeted for a number of reasons, including:

  • Social isolation – Many seniors live socially isolated lives that make them more open to a friendly overture from those who would defraud them.
  • Heightened fearfulness – A heightened sense of anxiety that is common among older people may make them more likely to respond to scams involving alleged harm to a family member or threats of legal action against themselves.
  • Lack of financial confidence Surviving spouses who were not the primary financial partner and others who lack financial knowledge may become easy targets for manipulation and intimidation.
  • Age-related loss of sound financial decision-making ability – This normal aspect of aging may leave a senior susceptible to accepting advice designed to exploit their vulnerability.
  • Financial insecurity – The actual or perceived possibility of outliving their financial resources can make seniors easy prey for phony get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Increased dependence on others – Seniors who must depend on others for activities of daily living are at heightened risk for abuse by caregivers and power of attorneys.
  • High levels of trustTrust An account set up to hold assets for a beneficiary. A trustee manages the assets until the beneficiary reaches legal age.+ read full definition – Many seniors have high levels of trust and want to see only the best in those close to them – whether family or professionals. Their reluctance to believe that those they trust would harm them may make them an easy target for financial abuse.

Signs someone you know is being targeted

Victims often don’t realize, or don’t want to consider, that they’ve been victimized.  When they are aware, they may be too embarrassed to report it or even shareShare A piece of ownership in a company. A share does not give you direct control over the company’s daily operations. But it does let you get a share of profits if the company pays dividends.+ read full definition their situation with close family members.   Some of the signs that someone you know is at risk for financial abuse include: 

  • Out-of-character withdrawals or transfers of funds from bank or investmentInvestment An item of value you buy to get income or to grow in value.+ read full definition accounts by an older accountAccount An agreement you make with a financial institution to handle your money. You can set up an account for depositing and withdrawing, earning interest, borrowing, investing, etc.+ read full definition holder
  • Sudden or large withdrawals or transfers of funds from bank or investment accounts by an attorney or someone claiming to act for the older account holder
  • Changes to living arrangements, such as someone unexpectedly moving in and potentially living there rent-free, or the sudden sale of their home
  • Efforts by a third party to limit contact with family, friends and advisors
  • Refusal by a power of attorney to make the grantor available to confirm instructions, or
  • Arrival on the scene of a new romantic interest who insists on taking control of their new partner’s finances.

Financial abuse by someone known to the victim, usually a caregiver or family member, is often accompanied by physical and/or emotional abuse.   You may notice:

  • Unexplained changes in grooming
  • Deteriorating physical health
  • Anxiety or fearfulness in the presence of the abuser, or
  • Significant changes in their previous routines.

What to do when you suspect financial abuse

  • When an older person tells you that someone is taking advantage of them, take their claims seriously, ask questions and offer support.
  • Contact the appropriate authorities – see the resources section below
  • Notify the appropriate financial institutions

Signs you’ve been targeted for financial abuse:

Worried that you might be a victim of financial abuse? If you think you have been or are being targeted, share your concerns with someone you trust – a family member, long-time friend, religious, legal or financial advisor not closely related to the abuser. Abusers and criminals count on their victims’ silence – the sooner a light is shone on their activities, the less harm they can inflict.

Here are some of the more common victim experiences you should be on the lookout for:

  • Feeling pressured to give or investInvest To use money for the purpose of making more money by making an investment. Often involves risk.+ read full definition money
  • Being forced to sign unfamiliar legal or financial documents
  • Being pressured to change a will or hand over or change a power of attorney
  • PensionPension A steady income you get after you retire. Some pensions pay you a fixed amount for life. Others save up money for you while you are working. You use that money to create income after you retire.+ read full definition, insurance or other cheques being cashed without your permission
  • Being asked to hand over cash, cryptocurrencyCryptocurrency See Digital Coins.+ read full definition (e.g. bitcoin) or valuables for alleged debts you didn’t know you had
  • Unexpected withdrawals from your bank or investment accounts
  • Unexplained disappearances of possessions, jewelry or other valuables
  • Too good to be true investment opportunities
  • New people coming into your life who take too much interest in your finances, and
  • Being told not to speak to anyone else about any of the above

10 steps to protect yourself against financial abuse

  1. Keep personal and financial information (PIN, passwords etc.) safe and only share it with trusted individuals.
  2. Set up automatic payments for bills and deposits into bank accounts and regularly review financial records for anything unusual.
  3. Be very cautious about opening a joint bank account with family members or other individuals.
  4. Understand all documents before signing; don’t hesitate to ask questions or to insist on taking time to consult with someone you trust.
  5. Don’t be coerced into lending money; and if its money you are willing to lend, be sure to get a signed repayment agreement – even if it’s a family member.
  6. Get legal advice before signing any documents for major financial decisions e.g. refinancing a home, investing in private investment schemes.
  7. Appoint a continuing or enduring power of attorney for property to help direct your finances if you find you are unable to do so yourself – but think carefully about who to appoint.
  8. Introduce your assigned attorney to your legal and financial advisors – create a formal investment policy statement and discuss your wishes together so that there can be no confusion later about how you would want your finances managed.
  9. Identify a trusted contact – someone other than the attorney, that your legal or financial advisor can contact if they become concerned about your well-being
  10. Stay connected with family, friends and the community so you don’t become isolated.

Who to contact if you suspect financial abuse

If you or someone you know may be a victim of financial abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance.

Seniors Safety Line (SSL): 1-866-299-1011
A safe and confidential place to discuss issues 24/7 in several languages.

Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA)
Get a better understanding of elder abuse with tips and resources in every province.

Resources for seniors
Helpful websites and tools for a variety of issues that affect older adults.

Speak to the local police
Fraud or financial abuse is a serious crime. Non-emergency police staff can help investigate suspicious activity and potentially charge those who break the law.

Report Scammers and Fraudsters
Canadian Anti-fraud Centre

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