Financial Elder Abuse
Several years ago, I received a phone call at the discount investing call centre where I worked. An older woman was on the line. She wanted to buy a particular investment. I noticed that she was being “coached” by someone near her on what she was to buy. To my ears, it sounded like a younger man. She was a bit confused about the procedure and he became increasingly impatient, loud, and aggressive in his “coaching.” I asked her if everything was all right. She insisted it was. Eventually, we completed the transaction. However, I documented the call and forwarded it to a team tasked with monitoring calls for signs of elder abuse. I don’t know what happened after that, but for me it was a vivid example of financial elder abuse.
The Most Common Form of Elder Abuse
According to our governments, financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada. Financial abuse can happen at any time, but the time following a crisis, such as the death of a spouse or the onset of a major health issue, is often when people are most vulnerable.
What is Financial Abuse?
A straightforward definition of financial abuse is “the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else’s money or property.” In the example above, it consisted of pressuring an elderly person to make a transaction that she was not interested in, did not want, and most definitely did not need.
Abuse of Power of Attorney
One of the types of abuse I most fear for elders is the actions of a friend or relative who has been granted Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney (PoA) is a legal document, usually drawn up by a lawyer at the same time a person creates a will. The appointed “attorney” is granted authority by the grantor or donor to make financial decisions for the donor. This authority is a grave responsibility and comes with it a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the donor. Nevertheless, abusive behaviour of this status is all too common. Imagine someone with PoA who is responsible for depositing cheques and paying bills. An unscrupulous person with access to the bank accounts of an elderly person could siphon off large amounts of money for their own benefit.
Above, I mentioned relatives or friends as likely candidates to be appointed PoA. Most abusers are people with whom you have a close connection, even your spouse, son, or daughter. Imagine you are an elderly person for whom one of the great delights is visiting with your grandchildren. Now let’s imagine that your son wants some money from you. Knowing how important your grandchildren are, he threatens to withhold access to them if you don’t do as he says.
Seven Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
The following comes from the Get Smarter About Money website, a service of the Ontario Securities Commission. If you see that an older person is presenting these signs, take the situation seriously.
- The person tells you someone is taking advantage of them.
- They are having trouble paying their bills.
- They are no longer buying things they need, like clothes, personal hygiene products, groceries or medications.
- Sudden or large amounts of cash are being withdrawn from their accounts.
- Unexplained disappearances of their possessions, jewelry or art.
- Surprising changes to their living arrangements.
- Misuse of Power of Attorney (PoA).
Go to this link to read more about each of these signs.
The following are links to each province or territory’s government website for supports for elders who may be exposed to financial abuse. I encourage you to take a look at the relevant site and keep the information handy in the event that someone you know presents evidence of financial abuse.
Within the above website, you can go to the following link to learn more about Responding to Financial Exploitation.
On this website I recommend the Financial Abuse Prevention – PowerPoint Presentation which provides a number of additional links and contact points for assistance.
The Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick also has a section on the Abuse and Neglect of Seniors.
Prince Edward Island
Elder Abuse Awareness, including contact information for assistance.
Newfoundland and Labrador
This section of the government’s website provides information on Adult Protection and guidance on reporting suspected abuse or neglect.
The focus on these pages is more broadly focused on Supports for Victims of Crime and on abusive domestic relationships rather than financial elder abuse specifically, but there is helpful information here, too.
Here are three resources for seniors in this territory: The Seniors’ Information Handbook, the NWT Network Creating Safe Communities for Older Adults, and the NWT Seniors’ Society. All have information about elder abuse.
Nunavut’s Department of Family Services has a webpage on Family Violence. The Department of Finance also has webpage devoted to Protecting Elders Against Financial Abuse. Finally, the Department of Justice section on Legal Registries has links to Information on Elder Financial Abuse.
If any readers have additional suggestions for information on the prevention of financial abuse among elders, please feel free to share on any of the social media this blog is posted on. Thank you.
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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for general information and discussion purposes only. It should not be relied upon for investment, insurance, tax or legal decisions.