Protecting the elderly from financial exploitation
Financial abuse of vulnerable seniors is a real concern—unfortunately, it’s something that happens all too often. Here are some tips to help you detect and prevent various forms of abuse.
Ms Gendron’s story
Ms. Gendron*, an 85-year-old member of Caisse Desjardins de la Chaudière, was almost a victim. Every time her financial advisor called, her daughter stepped in. She explained that her mother was preparing a power of attorney and that they would both be going to the caisse shortly to sign the documents.
Pressure to sign
But when her daughter was out, Ms. Gendron took the initiative to call the advisor herself. She anxiously explained that she felt pressured by her daughter to sign the power of attorney documents. During the call, her advisor added a clear note to Ms. Gendron’s file, specifying that she didn’t want to give someone else control of her transactions and describing the recommended approach for future conversations with Ms. Gendron or her daughter. This helped prevent abuse.
Ties of trust
Ms. Gendron did the right thing when she contacted her financial institution. But not all victims of financial abuse have the resources or opportunity to do so, even though help is available. In many cases, the person feels vulnerable, and suddenly someone close to them tries to take ownership or control of something that doesn’t belong to them. In 2019, 29%** of incidents involving material or financial mistreatment in Quebec involved a member of the person’s immediate or extended family. In 26%** of cases, the abuser was living with the victim at the time of the incident.
How to recognize financial abuse
There are many forms of financial abuse. It’s often committed by a person who’s acting in bad faith and has their own interests in mind—not the victim’s. Someone may try to force you to do something against your will or may act without your permission. Common methods include emotional manipulation or blackmail and pressure to sell assets, liquidate investments, loan money or grant an inheritance. That’s why it’s so important to always be on your guard, even if the person appears to be acting in good faith. If you feel pressure to act quickly, take your time. When it comes to decisions about your assets, it’s important to think things through carefully and to have a plan in place.
Steps you can take to prevent abuse
- Keep your money in a bank account rather than storing cash at home.
- Keep your credit and debit cards with you. Don’t lend them to others.
- Memorize the personal identification numbers (PINs) of your Desjardins access and credit cards, don’t share your PINs with anyone and don’t write them down in a place that’s accessible through email or social media. Never share your PINs with someone else, regardless of the reason they give.
- When you use an ATM, choose a well-known financial institution, like Desjardins.
- Keep a close eye on your finances and transactions and immediately report any unusual activity, even if you’ve given someone power of attorney.
- For online financial transactions, choose a strong password (consisting of upper case and lower case letters, numbers and symbols) such as a personal phrase (or “passphrase”).
- Your lawyer, notary or caisse advisor can help you decide whether or not to give someone power of attorney over your account. You can also call on a legal advisor or a notary to draw up a will, a protection mandate or a living will, or to arrange a loan or gift for a loved one.
What to do in case of doubt
If you have concerns or problems, a variety of confidential advice and support resources are available.
- Contact your caisse advisor or call 1-800-CAISSES This link will launch your default phone software. (1-800-224-7737).
- If you live in Quebec, you can call the Elder Mistreatment Helpline at 1-888-489-2287 This link will launch your default phone software.
- If you live in Ontario, you can call the Seniors Safety Line at 1-866-299-1011 This link will launch your default phone software.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, support and protection is available to help you in difficult situations.
- Elder Mistreatment Helpline
- Convenient tools: Autorité des marchés financiers
- Fraud and bullying resources: FADOQ and other local agencies.
- More on managing your money and assets: Department of Justice
- Financial literacy: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our members.
**Document de consultation - Appel de mémoires. Plan d’action gouvernemental pour contrer la maltraitance envers les personnes aînées 2022-2027, p.11 (in French only).