Elder Financial Abuse: Protect Yourself and Those You Love
Elder (or older adult) financial abuse is the most common form of abuse against older adults, accounting for over half of all elder abuse situations reported. Elder financial abuse impacts an older person’s options, finances, and their ability to properly take care of themselves.
Fortunately, through education, you can learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from elder financial abuse. This post describes elder financial abuse and provides common examples of this type of abuse. We also identify who is at risk of elder financial abuse, warnings signs to be aware of, as well as how you can recognize and prevent this abuse.
What is Elder Financial Abuse?
Elder financial abuse is the unauthorized use of an older person’s financial assets. Elder financial abuse may involve any amount of money or any size of property; it can happen to men and women, and often occurs during or after a change in the elder adult’s health.
Most common elder financial abuse perpetrators
It’s important to know that financial abuse is most commonly inflicted by people closest to older adults, including:
- Family members;
- Caregivers, and
Strangers outside of an older adult’s inner circle will also work to defraud them of savings such as investments, property, and pensions. These fraudsters initially offer help, financial advice, or friendship to build trust that they leverage to access the older adult’s finances.
Older adults can be vulnerable to fraudulent investments because they may be looking to maximize their retirement savings, or leave money for their children or grandchildren. Fraudsters use these desires to entice them with high-return, low-risk ‘investments’. Fraudsters commonly approach older adults through:
- Personal visits;
- Door-to-door sales;
- Sales seminars, or
What does elder financial abuse look like?
Elder financial abuse can take place in many subtle forms. Often, targeted older adults don’t realize they’re being taken advantage of until it’s too late.
In many cases, financial abuse occurs when a family member, friend, or someone who controls the older adult’s finances, disregards the older adult’s financial obligations. Some examples of elder financial abuse include:
- A family member who pressures a parent or grandparent for money or borrows money, but never repays it;
- An older person is pressured to make an investment that turns out to be fraudulent;
- A person who forces or tricks an older adult into signing or changing a contract or will;
- Cashing in RRSP’s without permission;
- Taking or withholding an older adult’s pension or insurance cheque; or,
- Forging an elder person’s name or altering a document.
Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
The challenge with elder financial abuse, and why it is commonly unreported, is because it’s difficult to recognize. In many cases, elder financial abuse is not realized until a large portion of the older adult’s savings have gone missing. However, there are warning signs that you can look out for:
The ‘New Friend’
This individual may appear and begin to accompany the older adult to financial and legal meetings. They may present the older adult with investment opportunities or offer to help manage their finances. Be cautious of anyone who appears to form friendships with financial motives.
In these cases, it’s possible that someone else is using that older adult’s credit card. It is important to be aware of, and recognize when purchases that seem unusual for an older adult, appear on their financial statements.
If the elder adult is spending less time with their family or social networks, or spending too much time with one person, it could be cause for concern. Be aware of changes in social networks and behavioural patterns.
High-pressure sales tactics
Like any investment, there is never a reason to invest because of pressure. Always be sure to consult your registered investment advisor before making any investment decisions, especially in you feel subject to high-pressure sales tactics.
Unsolicited cold calls or e-mails
Unsolicited over-the-phone, or email investment offers that seem too good to be true probably are. If an older adult mentions receiving investment offers via email or phone, take time to communicate the risks of fraud with them. Let them know that phone and email are common investment scam channels.
Pressure from friends, family, or care workers
Just because they are a friend, relative, or someone you trust does not mean they have your best interest in mind or that the investment is suitable for you. Always speak with your registered investment advisor before making any investment decisions, even if the offer is from someone you know and trust.
Better Your Understanding of Elder Financial Abuse
You can make a difference by building your understanding of elder financial abuse by:
- Learning to recognize, reject, and report investment scams.
- Understanding how fraudsters target older adults.
- Understanding affinity fraud and learning the affinity fraud warning signs.
- Subscribing to our fraud email course.
- Learning to identify and avoid investment schemes with InvestRight’s Seniors and Adults Over 50: Check Before You Invest
Other Helpful Tools and Resources
- The Canadian Securities Administrators provide a number of brochures on the Investor Tools section of their website. Sandwich Generation: Are You Caught in The Middle? and Scam Artists Pursue Adults Over 50 are two publications that provide information related to retirees and older adults.
- The Canadian Bar Association page provides information on elder law, seniors’ rights, as well as benefits and services available to older adults.
- The Canadian Centre for Elder Law is a national, non-profit which publishes a journal and provides resources for public use.
- Seniors First BC is a non-profit which raises awareness about elder abuse, and provides programs to its clients. Seniors First BC also offer a seniors abuse and information line (SAIL), which is a safe 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.
- BC Association of Community Response Networks (BC CRNs) provides funding and support structure to adults experiencing abuse and neglect. BC CRNs provide small project funding, materials, training, support, people, and maintain a website to assist Community Response Networks.
- The B.C. Government offers an information kit that features brochures on a variety of topics related to elder abuse:
- InvestRight also offers a Be Fraud Aware brochure that focuses on the warning signs to look out for when considering an investment.
Report a Concern
If you have any concerns about a person or company offering an investment opportunity, please contact BCSC Inquiries at 604-899-6854 or 1-800-373-6393 or through e-mail at [email protected]. You can also file a complaint or submit a tip anonymously using the BCSC’s online complaint form.