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Elder financial abuse; a growing concern

Pete Aarssen's picture
Tue, 08/01/2017 - 13:39 -- Pete Aarssen

Every once in a while, a door-to-door or telephone scam is discovered locally; someone claiming to be a utility company requiring payment or that an award has been won; ‘just send a small administration fee and we’ll provide you with the details’! Regrettably, these scams continue to occur and regrettably, it is seniors who are often targeted and fall victim. Elders, especially those older and living alone crave human contact and are generally less skeptical of an apparent authority’s authenticity. That being said, these types of scams are less frequent than other forms of financial elder abuse among seniors.  According to a renowned elder abuse expert, 2.6 per cent of Canada’s growing population of elders are financially abused. With Canada’s population being somewhere around 36 million persons and with elders comprising almost 20% of our total population that is a very high number of elders experiencing financial abuse!

 In today’s society, there is zero tolerance for any form of abuse being extended towards anyone. While that is certainly the goal, that result is not being achieved among elders. What is worse, as referenced in a Canadian Press article of June 2017, a family member is usually responsible.

In British Columbia for example, Brett Butchart of The Interior Health Authority has said: “The most common type of report that we’re seeing tends to be neglect from family members. And during the investigation from our staff, we find that verbal and financial abuse is often occurring,” A hotline has since been set up but it isn’t being accessed very often. The IHA says that only 40 people have used the hotline since its launch in May. It speculates that’s because seniors who are being abused are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal.

Here is a real life example from elder abuse expert - Lynn McDonald, Director of the Institute for Human Development, Life Course and Aging at the U of T. This recent incident involves a woman in Saskatchewan who was nearly bankrupted by one of her own adult children as she underwent hip surgery. “The daughter convinced the mother to sign over everything to her while she was sick in hospital and then she’d get it back after she came out,” McDonald said: “But she sold the mother’s house right under her, and took all her possessions. When the discharge went through, the mother came out of hospital with nothing but a pension.”

It’s critical for seniors to understand how to protect themselves from financial abuse; given the majority of cases will involve people close to them so picking someone with some financial common sense; who isn’t in financial stress themselves is critical. While financial arrangements can be done at arm’s length through a trust company, they do charge a fee for their services making elders, protective of their life savings, reluctant to do so.

Like anything in life, people and are most comfortable making their own decisions on whom to entrust with the role of power of attourney or financial guardianship. In the vast majority of situations, there is no issue with an elder’s family member being an executor or POA, in fact, it is quite normal. So what to do should financial arrangements be in place with a family member? Vigilance is the watchword. Concerned elders and their caring children should look for red flags. Anyone concerned can easily sense something is wrong when there is a change in the financial spending patterns or in the types and places money is spent. While it is sad to see money sometimes coming before familial relationship, this form of abuse can affect anyone, not just the wealthy. Having multiple people responsible for one’s financial concerns can add a layer of assurance similar to assigning it to a disinterested person. When one has worked hard to save what money they could, extreme care should be taken to place one’s accumulated life savings out of harm’s way.

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