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
  • Friends.

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
  • Telemarketing.


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.

Unusual Purchases

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.

Social Isolation

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:

  1. Learning to recognize, reject, and report investment scams.
  2. Understanding how fraudsters target older adults.
  3. Understanding affinity fraud and learning the affinity fraud warning signs.
  4. Subscribing to our fraud email course.
  5. Learning to identify and avoid investment schemes with InvestRight’s Seniors and Adults Over 50: Check Before You Invest


Other Helpful Tools and Resources


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.

InvestRight.org is the British Columbia Securities Commission’s investor education website. Subscribe to receive email updates from BCSC InvestRight.

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