A new study suggests more than 40 per cent of B.C. seniors have been financially abused, usually by someone they know and trust.
The report by Vancity Credit Union and a companion survey of Lower Mainland and Victoria seniors by the Mustel Group indicate the problem is much more pervasive than higher-profile fraud against seniors by unknown scammers.
It cites estimates from other researchers that 55 per cent of cases of seniors fraud or financial abuse are perpetrated by family, friends, neighbours or caregivers and that total losses could run as high as $1.3 billion in B.C.
"The most common are demands for money from family members," the report says, dubbing it an "invisible crime."
Seniors financial abuse is when someone uses the senior's money, property or personal information for their own benefit without authorization.
It's less often outright theft or scams and more often pressure tactics that result in scenarios that benefit the abuser.
The survey found 19 per cent of southwest B.C. seniors had lost money to someone who never repaid a loan, or who borrowed money without telling the senior at all.
Another 18 per cent said they'd been pressured into giving money.
Common scenarios include younger family members campaigning for an early bequest.
"A lot of older adults are being pressured by their now grown-up children to give them their inheritance early so they don't have to wait until you die," said Lorraine Logan, president of the Council of Senior Citizens of B.C.
Sometimes the aim is to avoid loss of family wealth to capital gains tax, she said.
Logan said high home prices in Metro Vancouver are often a reason seniors are urged to contribute to a down payment so children or grandchildren can get into the real estate market.
Such transfers can be completely legitimate, or highly questionable if the senior feels forced to consent or if doubts arise about their ability to legally consent.
The Vancity report says other financial abuse scenarios include:
- A family member or caregiver who shops or pays bills for a senior but spends for themselves as well using the senior's cash, debit or credit card.
- Redirecting incoming benefits cheques for deposit to the abuser's account instead of the senior's.
- Predatory marriage to a senior to gain access to their assets.
Logan said seniors and legal advisers should be on high alert for trouble whenever signing legal agreements that put financial control into someone else's hands.
"I've heard a young person say 'I'm going to get power of attorney for my dad and then I'm going to go out and buy him a new car so I can drive him around.'"
Few seniors ever blow the whistle on family, Logan said.
"It's so sensitive," she said. "If you're the victim of your son and daughter raping your bank account you probably not going to want to tell anybody."
Any senior can be at risk, the Vancity report said, but many are even more vulnerable if they lack financial understanding, are isolated without a strong social circle, a newcomer to Canada facing language or cultural barriers, unsure of the value of their home or other assets, or are impaired by medication, stress or exhaustion from medical problems.
The report recommends financial institutions train frontline staff to recognize seniors financial abuse and to help seniors identify abusive scenarios.
Vancity is hosting free public workshops on seniors financial abuse Nov. 19 in Richmond, North Delta, Port Coquitlam and Victoria and Nov. 20 in Vancouver, Burnaby and Abbotsford. For info see https://www.vancity.com/AboutVancity/Events/EachOneTeachOne.
WARNING SIGNS- Senior feels they're losing control over financial affairs.- Unexpectedly failing to meet a financial obligation for the first time.- Unexpected bank or credit card transactions.- Bank statement is being sent to someone other than the senior.
PREVENTION- Get independent legal advice before signing documents.- Set up bank direct deposits for government and pension accounts and automatic payment of bills.- Keep financial and personal information in a safe place, never give anyone a bank card PIN.- If lending money, write down the person's name, amount and date and ask the borrower to sign.- Keep in touch with a variety of friends and family to avoid being isolated.– source: Vancity Credit Union