Financial exploitation of seniors is the most common form of elder abuse in North America. At least 17 per cent of Americans over 65 report they have been victims of such abuse but it is estimated that only one in 44 cases are reported. How can older adults protect themselves? The first step is to learn the signs of abuse.
Financial abuse often takes place after the death of a spouse or following a health crisis when older adults may be vulnerable and more easily manipulated. It can occur along with emotional or even physical abuse over long periods of time. Seniors may feel pressured by family or friends to give them money, sign legal documents they don’t fully understand, work for no money caring for children or grandchildren, provide food and shelter without pay, give away possessions or make unwanted purchases.
While some types of financial abuse is clearly theft of fraud, for example someone else cashing your pension check, much financial exploitation of seniors is more subtle and can be hard to discern. It is important for seniors to protect themselves, even from loved-ones who may try to take advantage.
Seniors who suffer from dementia or mild cognitive impairment are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation or investment fraud. Many doctors receive training to spot elderly financial abuse and can be a good source of help if seniors or family suspect exploitation.
Tips for Preventing Financial Abuse
- Keep financial information in a safe place
- Document any loans or gifts of money
- Have a power of attorney that you trust appointed in case of illness
- Avoid joint bank accounts – except with trusted power of attorney
- Keep in touch with family and friends to avoid isolation which may make you vulnerable
- Ask a trusted person to review any contract before signing
- Seek legal counsel before signing any major documents such as selling property
- Ask for help from bank, credit union or local seniors center if you suspect financial abuse
To learn more about elder abuse and for resources in your area visit the Government of Canada website at http://www.seniors.gc.ca/eng/pie/eaa/index.shtml .