Financial abuse of seniors and fraud: Protecting your property and assets

Financial abuse

The financial abuse of a senior involves the misuse of an older adult’s money or belongings by a person the senior trusts. It is generally defined as an action or a series of actions that occur as part of an ongoing relationship and often happens in connection with other types of abuse.
 
Financial abuse is one of the most common types of seniors’ abuse. Powers of Attorney (PoAs) and joint bank accounts are tools to assist seniors and others manage their financial affairs. And while these tools can be very useful, the most common scenarios associated with the financial abuse of seniors are related to the misuse of PoAs and joint bank accounts.

Some common examples of financial abuse of seniors include:

  • misuse or theft of a senior’s assets, property or money (often from joint bank accounts or through improper use of PoAs
  • taking a senior’s money or cashing their cheques without their permission
  • forging a senior’s signature or altering documents to get permission to access or dispose of assets
  • monetary gifts that are involuntary—e.g., gifts made under coercion, undue influence or threats
  • unduly pressuring, forcing or tricking a senior to make or change a will, or to sign legal documents that gives away the senior’s property or obligates the senior for something for which the senior does not benefit, as well as:
    • pressuring a senior to obtain a mortgage they don’t need, where the proceeds are used by a relative or
    • having the senior sign a guarantee or pledge their property as security for someone else’s loan
  • pressuring a senior to give money or write cheques for that person or to someone else that person directs
  • sharing a senior’s home without paying a fair share of the expenses when requested
  • failing to repay loans provided by a senior
  • predatory marriage, where a person deliberately pressures an older person of limited capacity into marriage solely for financial profit.

General tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of financial abuse:

  • Be wary of phone or email requests asking for banking or other personal information—your financial institution will not call you to ask for this information.
  • Keep your passwords and personal identification number (PIN) to yourself—avoid writing them down or sharing them with friends or relatives. Once you’ve shared your PIN (for your debit or credit card) with another person, you risk giving up your liability protection, and could be held financially responsible for any unauthorized transactions undertaken with your cards.
  • Keep your financial and personal information in a safe place.
  • Ask a lawyer or someone you trust to look over contracts and other papers before you sign them.
  • For major decisions involving your home or other property, get your own legal advice before signing documents.
  • Before you sign a Power of Attorney (PoA) for your property, consider consulting a lawyer to ensure you are aware of all of the implications. A PoA is a powerful document that grants a person (or persons) power to act on your behalf for property or personal care decisions. The person you appoint with a property PoA may have complete access to your finances. Assigning a PoA to someone is not a decision to take lightly. For more information, visit FCAC’s page on Powers of Attorney: Your rights and responsibilities or the publication See What every older Canadian should know about: Powers of Attorney (for financial matters and property) and Joint Bank Accounts
  • Use direct deposit for regular deposits such as pension or annuity payments and preauthorized payments to pay for bills to limit the number of banking transactions that others will need to do for you.
  • Be very cautious if you open a joint bank account. A joint bank account means that the other person is also an owner of the funds in the account and could withdraw all of the money without asking. The other person’s creditors could also seize your money to pay the other person’s debts, or your funds could be considered the other person’s marital assets if they divorce their partner.
  • Keep a record of money you give away and note whether it is a loan or a gift.
  • Make an effort to keep in touch with a variety of friends and family so you don’t become isolated.
  • Ask for help if you think you are experiencing financial abuse. Find resources in your province or territory.
For more information, visit the seniors.gc.ca to find a series of publications on financial abuse and fraud, including What every older Canadian should know about Financial Abuse.

Fraud

Fraud is a general term for any wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. Fraud generally occurs by misrepresenting or concealing facts. Frauds can be committed by anyone, including professionals/people in business, service providers, and strangers. Fraud can also be carried out by a spouse, friends and immediate and extended family.
  
Fraud is the most common type of crime committed against seniors. Though people of all ages can be victims of fraud, older people get targeted more than others. Some of the reasons are that they are often home during the day to answer the door or phone, they can be more trusting and they may not have family or friends close by to ask for a second opinion.
  
Financial frauds and scams targeting seniors can take many forms. Some of the more common types of fraud include:
 

General tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of fraud: 

  • Keep important personal documents such as your birth certificate, social insurance number and your passport in a safe and secure place. Don’t carry them around with you if you don’t need them.
  • Never give out personal information such as your credit card number, bank account number or social insurance number over the phone, at the door or online unless you know and trust the person.
  • Be careful when you get rid of old statements and bills and shred them. Fraudsters can rummage through your garbage and recycling for old bank statements and bills to obtain your personal information and use it for fraudulent purposes. 
  • Do not click on pop-up windows or respond to emails, open attachments or go to website links sent by people you do not know. Your bank or credit union will not send you anything by email unless you ask them to.
  • Be suspicious if someone you don’t know asks you to send them money or a cheque, or to return money they “accidentally” sent you.
  • Never feel pressured to sign an agreement or contract in the moment, even if it’s a “limited time offer.” It’s best to wait until you or someone you know and trust can look over the details of the agreement or contract.
  • Before hiring someone or agreeing to have work done on your home, ask for proof of identity and references and check them.

To find out what to do if you become the victim of fraud, visit the What to do if you become a victim page of FCAC’s Fraud section.

For more information, visit Seniors.gc.ca to find a series of publications on financial abuse and fraud, including What every older Canadian should know about Frauds and Scams.

 

Related Resources