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Seniors vulnerable to elder financial abuse Thumbnail

Seniors vulnerable to elder financial abuse

While elder abuse comes in many forms, you may be surprised to learn financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.  

In recent material from Elder Abuse Elgin, statistics show that anywhere from 2% to 10% of seniors experience abuse every year.  In Ontario alone, this equates to somewhere between 40,000 and 200,000 seniors.   What’s more, the vast majority of elder abuse cases are not a one-time occurrence.  In most cases, the abuse happens over and over again.

Financial abuse cases can be easy to spot when an elder is in clear cognitive decline and the abuse is blatant.  However, in many cases in which parents give money to adult children and grandchildren or other family members there is a great deal of grey area.

In Globe and Mail  ‘Skyrocketing’ level of elder financial abuse rising further during COVID-19, Laura Tamblyn Watts, president and chief executive officer of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy group (canage.ca) says, “Elder abuse and neglect is skyrocketing, and it appears during the time of COVID-19, it’s going to get worse, not better.”

Financial abuse cases can be easy to spot when an elder is in clear cognitive decline and the abuse is blatant.  However, in many cases in which parents give money to adult children and grandchildren or other family members there is a great deal of grey area.  Sadly, much elders abuse in this grey area is at the hands of someone who the senior loves and trusts; often a child, grandchild, caregiver or friend.

One reason for the increase in financial elder abuse activity during COVID-19 pertains to any adult child, family member or friend who has been riding out the pandemic on government support.  There is a heightened risk of these individuals turning to elders for financial support when the funding runs out; regardless of how much the senior needs the money for their own needs.  In addition, the pandemic social distancing measures have isolated seniors in such a way that there are fewer loved ones around on a regular basis who might otherwise pick up on red flags.  This perfect storm makes seniors more vulnerable to financial abuse, perhaps now more than ever.

National Institute for the Care of the Elderly (nicenet.ca) brochure on Preventing and Intervening in Situations of Financial Abuse as part of a financial literacy series for older adults, lists the following examples of elder financial abuse:

  • Misusing a Power of Attorney
  • Stealing a senior’s money, pension cheques or possessions
  • Committing fraud, forgery or extortion
  • Sharing a senior’s home without paying a fair share of the expenses
  • Unduly pressuring a senior to:
    1. Sell personal property
    2. Invest or take out money
    3. Buy alcohol or drugs
    4. Make or change a will
    5. Sign legal documents they do not understand
    6. Engage in paid work to bring in extra money

Spotting these things can be tricky.  Some possible signs of financial abuse may include unexplained or sudden inability to pay bills, sudden unusual withdrawal of money from accounts, poor living conditions in comparison to assets, unexplained disappearance of possessions, changes in the seniors appearance or their lack of knowledge or confusion about their financial situation.  It may also include measures of coercion if their financial decisions are being controlled, forced to sign multiple documents at once that they do not understand, sudden changes in power of attorney, or coercion into being over-worked and under paid.  More obvious indicators are when spending being controlled, rights to make independent financial decisions denied or purchases for necessities of life not being met by a power of attorney.

What should you do if you think you or your loved one may be experiencing elder abuse?  Document everything and speak with someone who you trust implicitly with this information to help determine your next steps. There are multiple elder abuse resources available but to get started you may wish to call the 24 hour Seniors Safety Line 1-866-299-1011 in connection with Elder Abuse Elgin, Elder Abuse Prevention (ON) and Southwest Frail Senior Strategy which can provide help and point you in the right direction.

Column appeared in This Month in Elgin magazine June 2021 edition

Stephanie Farrow, BA., CFP., Stephanie has over 28 years' experience in the financial services industry, a diploma in Financial Planning from the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning and Certified Financial Planner designation.  Stephanie has been writing a financial column for local business magazine Elgin This Month/This Month in Elgin since 2010.  Stephanie and her husband own Farrow Financial Services Inc.  About our Farrow Financial Team.

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Photo credit: Image by Sabine Van Erp from Pixabay