BMO Nesbitt Burns
1 First Canadian Place
40th Floor , P.O. Box 150
Protecting Your Family From Elder Financial Abuse
Posted on: July 22, 2016
Elder scamming and financial abuse are on the rise and as more elders get online the problem is only worsening. Financial abuse involves elderly people being forced or tricked into giving unauthorized use of their money or property to someone else. It can come from strangers, scammers, and even within their family. One report recorded that American seniors are losing about $36 billion annually from fraud and financial abuse, and estimates nearly one in four elders is impacted by these scams.
Why Elders are at Higher Risk
Elders are at high risk for financial abuse because they are often in the vulnerable position of being isolated. Elderly people can have conditions or disabilities like forgetfulness and cognitive impairments that cause them to be dependent on others for help; whether it is service providers, family members, or care-givers, they are all in a position of power over the elderly people they care for and can manipulate or coerce them into a situation of financial abuse. By working closely with the elderly, caregivers can have influence over their decisions and gain easy access to important documents.
Moreover, the cognitive impairments of the elderly also makes them more susceptible to abuse from strangers and scammers. Many elders continue to live alone after their spouse dies, leaving them with no one to consult their financial decisions with. As well, they often want to maintain their independence and do not consult with family members before making financial decisions. One of the top contributing factors to vulnerability is that many elderly people are extremely friendly and approachable as they feel comfortable interacting with strangers and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
What You Can Do
- They receive phone calls, mail, or e-mail offers for “free” winnings.
- They are coerced into making financial decisions without fully understanding them.
- They are purchasing items they don’t want, need, and often can’t even use, such as a lifetime membership to a gym.
- They suddenly change their Power of Attorney, will, or title of their property to someone else.
- Sudden changes in their financial accounts.
- They increase their number of charitable donations.
- They’re invited to free meals.
The most important step to preventing elders from financial abuse is protection and guidance. They need to be informed on what this abuse can look like and how it can happen. Here are some lessons to go over with your parents or grandparents:
- Never give out personal, financial, or health care information over the phone or e-mail. Real government officials will not request sensitive information like your SIN in this way.
- Be cautious of pushy marketers, they are often scamming and you should say you’re not interested and hang up.
- Use caller ID and don’t answer the phone for toll-free numbers: these are scams.
- Understand what online phishing scams looks like, from pop-ups on the Internet to E-mail scams. Teach your parents to not even click on these, to either ignore them online or delete the E-mail.
- Download malware programs that protect your computer from downloading viruses and block pop-ups.
- Ensure important passwords are stored securely and not in an easily accessible online file, like in a computer document or notepad.
- Consult someone you trust for help with financial matters and do not sign things you do not understand.
You can help protect your aging parents by offering your assistance and being involved in financial matters, like helping them check their credit rating or going through their online banking with them. If not dealing with their finances directly, you should at least make sure your parents understand what elder financial abuse can look like and how they can protect themselves.
If you find having these kinds of conversations challenging, I’ve written an article with tips on how to approach sensitive topics with your aging parents. Although these conversations can be uncomfortable, sometimes they are necessary.