How Safe Are Your Parents from Elder Financial Abuse?

May 15, 2012

By Heather Compton

Senior Financial Abuse

Elder Financial AbuseIt can happen to any of us. “Hi Grandpa” says a voice on the other end of the line. “Is that you Steve?” you reply uncertainly, not sure you recognize the voice. “Yes, Grandpa it’s Steve. I’m in trouble and I need your help but please, don’t tell my Mom or Dad.”

That’s how the scam starts. Next comes the tale of woe, a car broken down far from home or an unjust arrest for a minor offense and  he absolutely can’t go to the folks ‘cause they’ll flip their lid. Can Grandpa help? Of course he can…and he does. And with that action Gramps becomes just another victim of a confidence crime or “con”.

There are a number of ways we or our elderly parents can be parted from our money and there’s even a name for it – senior or elder financial abuse. It happens more frequently than you might believe and regretfully, it’s not always strangers committing the fraud.

Protecting Yourself From Scams by Trusted Family Members & Friends

How do I scam thee, let me count the ways. We’ve all heard stories of unscrupulous family members or care attendants encouraging vulnerable elders to sign Powers of Attorney or new wills or other documents. Using their trusted position, they could be secretly helping themselves to possessions or financial assets without permission. There are also situations where signatures are forged or undue influence and pressure is put on the victim and we’ve all heard of e-mail or telemarketing scams.

We must be on guard for those who overcharge or make incorrect change at the till and watch for credit card charges without authorization. There are those who play on the vulnerability of the recently bereaved, use deceptive business practises or abuse their positions of trust. No surprise some of us fall for sweetheart scams or “helpers” who encourage us to exchange the contents of our bank account for love, attention or the promise of lifelong care.

If we or our parents are socially isolated, lonely, live far from family, are infirm or suffering mental or physical disabilities, or are recovering from the loss of a loved one we are at increased risk.  Those risks will touch all of us at some point.

Protecting Yourself from Financial Abuse

Trusting no one is not a solution to financial abuse. The best defence is to stay engaged with our wider community – friends who will call “foul” when they feel we are making poor decisions, family doctors who are aware of our situation, a faith community that checks in on us, trusted neighbours who keep an eye out, a banker, accountant or lawyer who takes an interest and questions frequent withdrawals or unusual activity.  Our best protection is a loving and involved family where several family members have their finger on the pulse of our financial affairs.

Checking references and requiring a security check are sensible precautions when hiring helpers. Protecting ourselves may also mean simplifying our financial affairs – reducing the number of bank accounts or credit cards or investment accounts so suspicious activity is more easily detected and regularly reviewing the transactions on these accounts. It also requires us to get advice from trusted others if we are asked to sign documents we don’t understand and to speak up if we have suspicions – too often victims are too embarrassed.

Keep yourself informed and aware and speak up!

About the Authors: Heather Compton has presented seminars on financial and retirement lifestyle issues for over 30 years. She retired as Vice President and Senior Investment Advisor with a major financial services company. Heather and husband Dennis Blas co-present retirement seminars for a variety of corporate clients and are the co-authors of Retirement Rocks! Canadian Boomers Invest in Life. You can find their book online or in independent bookstores. See more of their advice at Retirement Rocks.

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  • Erin McLaughlin

    This is such an important topic and one we often hear about when it’s too late and damage has already been done. These are great tips for keeping aware and making sure we all look out for each other and our loved ones! Financial security is something we discuss quite a lot in our community and are always looking for helpful information to share with each other 🙂 -Erin at ComfortLife

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