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Saturday, April 10, 2010

10 ways to prevent elder financial abuse

From everything I've read and seen lately, from studies to news headlines, it appears that financial abuse of older people is on the rise. Financial abuse includes everything from scams run by strangers to theft by family members. In some cases financial abuse leaves the senior with insufficient funds to pay for safe, clean, appropriate living circumstances. In all cases, it's a source of terrible stress for the senior and his or her family.

There are some steps that seniors can take to prevent and stop financial abuse, and I've listed ten such steps in this post. Feel free to add others if you like. In a future post, I'll talk about steps that other people in the senior's life can take.

1. Keep financial information as private as possible. Never give out personal or financial information on the phone. Shred your bills or bank statements when you are done with them. Don't leave cheque books, statements, bank cards etc lying around the house.

2. Have an unlisted telephone number. Register your phone number on the national do-not-call registry. These two steps should help reduce the number of strangers calling you.

3. Don't sign any sales agreements or other documents unless someone you trust has looked them over. Don't buy any services from door-to-door sales people or telephone solicitors no matter how good the deal sounds. Always talk about possible major purchases with someone you trust before going ahead.

4. Don't believe anyone who says you have to pay money to claim a prize. This is a very common scam.

5. Stay organized. Keep orderly records of your bank accounts, investments, house title, tax payments, GST rebates, pension cheques etc. Once a month, go over everything for a few minutes, just to make sure that all of the usual sources of income have come in, that all bills are paid and nothing out of the ordinary is going on. If this is simply too much for you, hire an accountant from a reputable firm to help you, or if that is too expensive, open a custodial type of bank account that takes care of those transactions for you.

6. Avoid joint bank accounts, either with your children or with a caregiver. It is a myth that a joint bank account is a good idea to allow someone to help you with banking, and they can cause huge headaches. Use a Power of Attorney instead. It is not expensive to have one made up, and it keeps your money in your name only.

7. Get your legal affairs, specifically a Will and Enduring Power of Attorney, in place. Be smart about who you choose to give all of this legal power to. Don't name someone as your executor or attorney if you are not 100% sure that you are comfortable leaving all financial decisions in their hands. Look at their financial situation too. If they are in dire straits, perhaps it's not a good idea to give them signing authority over your life savings. If you don't have someone close by that you trust, call a trust company to see if they will act as your representative.

8. Ask your lawyer to build some accountability clauses into your Enduring Power of Attorney. Make sure the person you name as attorney has to give financial documents to someone else (perhaps another family member, your accountant, your lawyer etc) on a regular basis. This is often enough to ensure your representative doesn't help himself or herself to your money.

9. Avoid becoming isolated. Take a class, exercise at a seniors' centre or join others at the library on a regular basis. Make in-person trips to the bank. Being alone all or most of the time makes you a prime candidate for being abused, because nobody else is there to notice or to offer help.

10. Trust your gut instinct if you feel that something is wrong. Ask for help. Call the authorities if necessary. If you think a caregiver, contractor or business person is double-billing you or otherwise fraudulently taking your money, ask your children or a senior's advocate for help. If a caregiver or one of your children seems to be stealing from you, call a lawyer you trust or a senior's help line. If you think money is missing from your bank account, talk to the bank manager to find out what's going on. Most large cities have an Elder Abuse Team as part of their police service, and these officers are there to help you. Many cities also have seniors' associations that are set up to help, educate and support seniors.


  1. Good article about a problem which is increasing here in the UK also. Could I also suggest - protect your identity online. Use an all-round antivirus/internet safety package and update it regularly. Do not write down your online passwords, there are a number of password storage software packages you can use to help remember them.

  2. Thank you for the comment. Yes, protecting online identity is definitely a good idea.

  3. What should I do. My father married a woman 40 years younger from him that he met through a friend. She was a mail order bride from the Phillipines, who has now emptied over $300,000 from his accounts. She has rung up thousands in debt and now is about to inherit 50% of his million dollar home. Help me what can I do

  4. Hi Dawn,
    If your father has mental capacity to deal with his own finances, there is nothing you can do. Every adult is entitled to dispose of his money as he sees fit, even if it means supporting a spendthrift wife, and even if his kids don't like it. Having said that, if your father is being taken advantage of because he has lost or is losing his mental capacity, that's another issue. You haven't mentioned anything about capacity, but to me, that's the pivotal fact in this picture. Is there a power of attorney in place? Perhaps it needs to be activated. If not, and if your father retains mental capacity to deal with finances to some extent, and wants your help, the two of you might consult a lawyer about what steps can or should be taken to protect your father's assets.



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