Preventing senior financial abuse

Preventing seniors financial abuse

As a senior or near-senior, you may be targeted by a specific type of financial abuse. Senior’s financial abuse is when someone uses your money, property, or personal information for their own benefit and not yours. You may not even recognize it as abuse. It can be subtle or obvious. And it may come from a trusted person, such as a family member, caregiver, friend or neighbor, or it can be a stranger who takes advantage of your potential vulnerability.

By understanding the risks, recognizing the warning signs and knowing how to prevent financial abuse, you can protect yourself and your money.

Risk factors

Any senior can be at risk for financial abuse, regardless of financial status, background or ethnicity. According to the BC Ministry of Health, one in 12 seniors will experience some form of financial abuse.

A senior may be more vulnerable to abuse if he or she is:

  • lacking confidence in understanding financial matters
  • without a strong social circle, resulting in being socially, geographically or culturally isolated
  • a newcomer to Canada, with language or cultural barriers to understanding contracts or financial matters
  • unsure of the value of his or her assets — particularly a house
  • partly or fully dependent on others for help with financial or day-to-day matters
  • experiencing health issues which may bring on stress or exhaustion, or may require medication which might impair judgment.

Warning signs

You may be the victim of senior financial abuse if you:

  • feel you are losing some control of your financial affairs
  • find that you’re unexpectedly failing to meet your financial obligations for the first time
  • see unexpected transactions on your bank or credit card statements.

You may also be a victim if you feel pressured by or afraid of someone who:

  • suggests your bank statements are sent to him or her, instead of you
  • asks you to change important documents such as your will or property title
  • asks you to sign documents you don’t understand or aren’t given time to read
  • asks you to give or lend them money, which may include insisting on accompanying you to the bank or credit union
  • prevents you from making your own financial decisions

Preventing abuse

There are steps you can take to prevent senior financial abuse:

  • Request your credit report from Equifax or TransUnion once a year. This is a way of checking if your financial information has been used fraudulently.
  • Get independent legal advice before signing any documents, especially those involving your home or other property.
  • Set up auto-deposit government and pension cheques into your bank account and also set up auto-pay for bills to prevent someone intercepting funds and misusing them.
  • Keep your financial and personal information in a safe place, and never give anyone your bank-card PIN.
  • If you lend someone money, write down the person’s name, the amount, and the date of loan; ask the person to sign this document.
  • Keep a file of your accounts and legal documents, and keep a record of financial transactions and changes to legal documents.
  • Keep in touch with a variety of friends and family so you don't become isolated.

Most importantly, consult a lawyer to ensure you have documents in place to protect your interests, including a will, and other documents which help with future decision-making in case you have diminished capacity in the future, such as a Power of Attorney and a Representation Agreement.

Access Pro Bono helps seniors 55+ who qualify to prepare a will and Representation Agreement for free.

Nidus offers low-cost help with personal planning, including Power of Attorney and Representation Agreements, as well as Personal Planning Registry (a centralized online Registry for information and documents related to personal planning and other aspects of your life).

Getting help

If you think you may be the victim of senior financial abuse, tell someone. Talk to a friend, family member, healthcare or social-services professional, financial advisor, a member of your faith community or local authorities. You should also seek legal advice.

Many victims don’t take action because they’re ashamed, afraid of what may happen to them or the abuser, or worried about the legal costs. But it’s important to protect yourself and your assets, and you can get help at little or no cost:

Seniors Abuse & Information Line provides free advice and support to seniors who may be victims of abuse.

Lawyer Referral Service offers consultations with a lawyer for up to 30 minutes for a fee of $25 plus tax.

Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia supports seniors who are victims of abuse and neglect.