Financial abuse happens more often than many people think. In fact, it is the most common form of abuse. It is estimated that one in twelve seniors experiences some kind of financial abuse. Sometimes financial abuse happens just once such as when a stranger steals a wallet or a dishonest tradesman overcharges for a repair job. Usually, though, it is part of a pattern of behaviour that starts with small things and gets worse, and usually the abuser is not a stranger but a trusted family member or friend.
The abuse happens when someone misuses your money or things. Examples include:
- Insisting on handling or controlling your money
- Treating your money or things as their own
- Repeated borrowing or borrowing without paying money back
- Misusing your Power of Attorney
- Forcing or tricking you into selling your home or other possessions
- Taking money from a joint account without your approval
- Forcing you to change your Will or give them a Power of Attorney
- Signing and cashing your cheques
- Taking your money to pay their bills instead of yours
What If It’s Happening Right Now?
Some people are reluctant to get help or report abuse because they are afraid they abuser will become angry or they are ashamed that this has happened to them. Some are worried about the abuser who may be a family member. Some just don’t know where to go for help.
If you or someone you know is being financially abused, something can be done about it. Help is available and your privacy will be respected. For non-emergency situations, referrals and information, call the Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL)
The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) is a safe, confidential place for older adults and those who care about them to talk to someone about situations where they feel they are being abused or mistreated, or to receive information about elder abuse prevention.
You can call toll-free at 1-866-437-1940 or 604-437-1940 in the Lower Mainland. Someone is available from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm daily (excluding holidays).
What Can Be Done to Avoid or Prevent It?
Some suggestions for preventing financial abuse before it starts are:
- Look now at your support system. Who can you trust? What would happen if you couldn’t manage your finances?
- Make your wishes known now. Talk to a lawyer, notary public, trusted friends, family members and financial advisors like your bank manager. Write down your wishes about finances, property, health care, living arrangements and other important issues in case you become ill or unable to make decisions. Give a copy of this to people you trust.
- If you manage the household finances, consider what would happen if you were no longer able to do this. How would your spouse or dependents manage? Put a system in place now so they will have support in doing these tasks if you can’t.
- Maintain a good set of friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Join a community centre, senior’s centre or community group. Remember that people keep each other safe.
- Be well informed about your personal assets, including property, bank accounts, investments and possessions. Your banker can help you get this information.
- Keep your money in a bank not at home.
- Have your pension cheques deposited directly to your bank account. Your banker can easily arrange this for you.
- Before you lend money to anyone have a written repayment agreement and make sure you and the borrower both sign it.
- Keep your blank cheques in a safe place and never sign a blank cheque.
- Never lend your identification, credit or bankcards or cheques to anyone. Never give identifying information such as social security number, credit card information, password or PINs to anyone.
- Report lost or stolen identification, cheques or credit cards to the police immediately.
- Talk to your lawyer, banker or other advisor about whether a Representation Agreement or Power of Attorney would be a benefit to you.
Where to Go For More Information
- The Canadian Bankers Association provides resources to consumers to prevent financial abuse and information on joint accounts and power of attorney including:
Infographic on Joint Accounts here
What is a Power of Attorney? Visit here.
Seniors’ groups can also book a free Your Money Seniors seminar by calling 1-800-263-0231 or by going here and fill in the online request form. They are delivered by trained bankers who volunteer their time to raise awareness of financial abuse, financial fraud and cash management in retirement.
Consumers can complete online modules on financial literacy here.
Want to receive fraud prevention tips, sign up for e-information here.
- The Canadian Centre for Elder Law is dedicated to improving the lives of older adults in their relationship to the law. They have an excellent site for both consumers and professionals working with seniors. Some of their publications on elder abuse and fraud protection include:
Be a Savvy Senior: Fraud Protection Strategies for Seniors visit here.
A page dedicated to Elder Law resources for consumers and professionals here.
- The RCMP has a great guide, “Seniors Guidebook to Safety and Security” and can be downloaded here.
- The Government of Canada has a site dedicated to financial abuse of seniors including:
It’s Time to Face the Reality here.
What every older Canadian should know about: Financial abuse information here.
Author: Wendy Johnstone, M.A. Gerontology