From property theft to telephone scams to misusing power of attorney, financial abuse is a real threat to vulnerable populations. In Canada, it is the most common form of abuse against senior citizens.
Knowing what to look for can go a long way to keeping yourself and those you care about safe from harm. Here are a few things that could indicate potential financial abuses:
Missing Valuables: Missing valuables around the home may be the first signs that something is wrong. Often times these disappearances are attributed to forgetfulness but if it is happening repeatedly, it is worth paying attention. If you notice that things are missing, or someone in your life mentions that they have lost their valuables, take note and take stock of any remaining items of worth.
Unusual Bank Activity: For most people, bank transactions are fairly routine. We often follow the same patterns month after month, spending at the same places, for similar amounts. If there are transactions that are unusual, there may be a problem, Look for purchases from unfamiliar stores in both large and small amounts. Third-party bill payments or unfamiliar credit card charges are other examples of unusual activity.
A New Companion: Obviously meeting new friends or romantic interests is not automatically a sign of financial abuse. But trust your instincts. If it feels like someone is taking advantage of you, or a loved one, it is possible that they are. Abusers will often use their relationship to gain the trust before they begin to take advantage.
Changes to Power of Attorney: Power of attorney is a very significant designation. It gives the designated person the power to act on behalf of the client in financial and legal affairs. When this designation is given or transfered without a concrete reason, especially to someone who is not a family member, long time friend, or lawyer, it could be a sign that someone is looking to gain control of the finances.
Unexplained Property Transfers: If your loved one has suddenly signed over their bank accounts or property to someone else, it could be a sign that someone is pressuring them and looking to take control of their assets.
There are a few steps you can take to try and prevent financial abuse. Begin by designating a power of attorney. This person should be a friend, family member or a lawyer. They should also be reliable, trustworthy, and stable. If possible, keep all valuables and important paperwork in a safe place and tell a trusted family member where to find these items in case of emergency. Do not sign any document you do not understand and keep copies of everything you do sign. Check your monthly financial statements and avoid giving out personal details or banking information to anyone who does not absolutely require it.
Financial abuse can be complicated. Sometimes the abuser is a family member or caregiver, making it difficult to come forward. If you feel like you are being abused in this way, or you feel like a family member is at risk, do not wait to investigate. Free legal advice and resources may available from your local seniors’ center and banks are often able to help create a plan that will safeguard any accounts.
If you do not know who to call in your community, try the Seniors Safety Line at 1-866-299-1011. They will be able to point you to resources anywhere within the province of Ontario and their trained counsellors will be able to provide support for those who are being abused or at risk of being abused. For resources in Kingston and surrounding area, call the Elder Abuse Prevention Support Line at 1-855-542-1336.
Talk to friends and family you can trust to create a support system that will work together to remedy the situation. At Heart to Heart we believe in protecting, and fighting for, all people in our care. If we are able to help end an abusive situation, we will. Do not hesitate to include us in your plan!