Real Talk: Elder financial abuse

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Aging is inevitable. And with growing older comes many considerations—where to live, how to deal with health challenges and of course, what to do about money. While many people save their entire lives to ensure their golden years can be enjoyed worry free, finances are often the part about growing older that can reveal the biggest challenges. From learning how to live on a fixed income to knowing the signs when somebody is trying to take advantage of you, safe-guarding your finances is something that every aging adult should be aware of. 

But what happens when financial considerations cross over from concerns to full-fledged abuse? It’s not something anybody wants to think about—but unfortunately, it’s a reality that a larger number of older adults than you may think have been subject to.

Elder financial abuse can be classified many ways, but in broad terms it’s when the money, property, or personal information of a senior is used in an unauthorized way. And, according to the government of Canada, financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in the country. But unlike other forms of abuse that may come with physical marks, financial abuse can be tough to spot, often happens over a long period of time, and worst of all, is usually perpetuated by friends, family, and loved ones.

We spoke with Donna Mackay, Manager, Member Experience at Provincial Credit Union to get her perspective on prevention and how to deal with elder financial abuse.

For Donna, preventing elder financial abuse ultimately comes down to knowing her members, and ensuring their needs are always put first.

“If we have a member that we suspect is being taken advantage of, there are ways for us to discretely ask questions,” says Donna. “Sometimes just asking questions can open a bit of a door for members to talk.”

It’s not always easy as the majority of financial elder abuse is perpetuated by family, “friends”, and loved ones. Financial abuse can also take many forms, and often starts off small and builds so it can be challenging to identify it. Many older adults don’t realize they’re being taken advantage of until it’s too late, and often feelings of shame prevent people from coming forward and reporting abuse once it has been identified.

The best way to safeguard against financial elder abuse is to have steps in place to prevent it in the first place. A few easy tips include:

  • Seek independent legal advice before signing any documents—especially those involving their home or other large assets/property.
  • Set-up automatic deposits for pension and other government cheques, as well as auto-payment for bills. This will ensure everything is being paid on time and will make it harder for somebody to misuse the funds.
  • Keep all financial and personal information in a safe place.
  • Keep a file of accounts, legal documents, and keep a record of all major financial transactions.
  • Have an extremely trusted individual to help manage financial matters.

The last point is an important one. Donna recommends “having a person you trust come in to help you as you get older.” An obvious choice is often a family member like an adult child or other relative. However, it’s important to think critically about who you’re appointing to manage these matters. If the person you’re bringing in to help is not good with managing money, has poor financial habits, or worse—serious debt or troublesome financial circumstances, they might not be the best person to help.

In these circumstances, seeking the advice and services of neutral third party like a financial services professional might not be a bad idea. Nobody wants to think that their loved ones wish to cause them any harm, but when it comes to money matters, people can do some strange things.

“The most important thing is that you can always ask for help,” says Donna. Your money is yours and until you decide to give it to somebody else, nobody should be helping themselves to it.”

If you suspect that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial elder abuse, there are steps you can take. First is to contact their credit union or other financial institution. You might not be able to get details, but by expressing your concerns, it will make other people aware of the situation. And of course, you can always escalate things by speaking to the police.

For more information on steps to prevent elder financial abuse, or anything else related to financial advice, contact your local credit union.