As we approach World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) is encouraging Albertans to be aware of the signs of elder financial abuse. Elder abuse can manifest in various forms, including physical, emotional, neglect, and financial mistreatment. In Canada, financial abuse is the most prevalent type, often occurring following a crisis, the loss of a loved one, or a decline in physical or mental health, when individuals may be feeling vulnerable and isolated. Unfortunately, identifying financial abuse can be challenging. Financial abuse is often a pattern, rather than a single event, and may happen over a long period of time. It involves the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else's money or property, which can range from forceful acts like theft or fraud to more subtle forms of pressure or deception. Victims of financial abuse, particularly when it involves friends or family members, may be reluctant to acknowledge or report the abuse, resulting in the abuse going unidentified.
Recognizing Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
Being aware of the warning signs can help loved ones identify potential cases of elder financial abuse. Some signs that a senior may be experiencing financial exploitation include:
- Unusual financial activity that does not align with their capabilities, such as online banking despite being unfamiliar with computers or making frequent ATM withdrawals despite mobility limitations.
- Sudden liquidation of investments without a reasonable explanation.
- Difficulty in contacting the person responsible for managing their finances.
- Abrupt changes in living arrangements without apparent cause.
- Emergence of a new close relationship, including romantic involvement, or a sudden shift in emotions towards a person or group.
- Overly keen interest or involvement in the senior's financial matters by a friend, family member, or caregiver.
- Unwillingness to discuss financial matters or an unusual preoccupation with winning lotteries or sweepstakes.
Ways Seniors can Safeguard Their Finances:
Seniors can take proactive steps to protect themselves from financial abuse and support their well-being:
- Foster social connections: Develop a network of trusted friends and relatives with whom you can openly discuss relationships and financial matters. If you feel someone is intruding excessively, pressuring you, or seeking unwarranted access to your finances, seek support from your trusted network.
- Stay informed: Thoroughly research investment opportunities or sales pitches before entrusting your money to anyone. Consider consulting a registered financial advisor if you require assistance in managing your finances.
- Monitor investments: Review financial statements or reports regularly. In case of any unfamiliar account activity, don't hesitate to ask questions and seek clarification.
- Appoint a Trusted Contact Person: Consider appointing a Trusted Contact Person. A Trusted Contact Person is someone you’ve given your financial advisor or firm permission to contact should the advisor suspect financial abuse or detect signs of cognitive decline.
- Be cautious about sharing personal information: Exercise caution when asked to provide copies of sensitive information like driver's licenses, social insurance numbers, or credit card details. Understand why the information is necessary and how it will be used.
- Don’t allow anyone to remotely access/control your computer or phone: Be vigilant about protecting your computer or mobile phone from remote access. Be wary of any person trying to persuade you to download a program for your computer or install an app on your phone.
- Educate yourself about investment scams: Visit the ASC’s investor website at checkfirst.ca/seniors or reach out to the ASC for information on common investment scams and strategies to avoid them.
- Understand affinity fraud risks: Even if a close friend or family member recommends an investment opportunity, conduct independent research and don’t succumb to pressure to make immediate decisions.
For help or more information on elder financial abuse: http://www.albertaelderabuse.ca/
For more information on recognizing, avoiding or reporting investment fraud:
Alberta Securities Commission