Categories: Elder Law

What Are the Signs of Financial Elder Abuse?

Financial abuse affects thousands of older Canadians each year. Sometimes, this abuse is perpetrated by a person in a position of trust, such as a family member or financial professional while, in others, a stranger who befriends the victim is involved. Many older adults are hesitant to report financial abuse because they are embarrassed or confused and others may actually be unaware that financial abuse has even occurred. As a result, it is important for family members and loved ones of older people to be on the lookout for the signs of financial abuse and to take appropriate action to prevent abuse or intervene if necessary.

Older adults who have been the victim of financial abuse are often entitled to recover money lost or property improperly transferred. To discuss your case with a lawyer, call McLarty Wolf today at 604-688-9542.

Common Signs of Financial Abuse

Financial elder abuse involves the misappropriation of an older person’s money or assets through deceptive or otherwise fraudulent means. It can take many forms, including forging a person’s signature, opening lines of credit in the victim’s name, scams, using property or other assets without permission, and exerting influence on an older person in order to induce them to purchase something or to sign a contract or document that benefits someone else. Some of the common signs of elder financial abuse that loved ones should be aware of include the following:

  • A sudden change in an older person’s financial situation
  • New close friends or acquaintances
  • The living situation of the person does not reflect their financial circumstances
  • Unpaid bills or disruptions in service
  • Missing property
  • Unusual account activity
  • Suspicious signatures
  • Bank statements are no longer being sent to the individual’s home

Suspected instances of abuse can be reported to the Public Guardian and Trustee or the police. Victims should also consider retaining a lawyer immediately.

Types of Financial Abuse

Financial elder abuse is a serious problem throughout Canada. In fact, a 2013 report1 published in the Huffington Post indicates that it is the most common type of elder abuse in Canada. It occurs when a person in a position of trust or power takes advantage of an older person’s financial situation. Financial elder abuse can take a variety of forms, including the following:

  • Forging an older person’s signature
  • Taking advantage of an older person’s isolation or mental state for financial gain
  • Getting an older person to engage in a financial transaction by exercising undue influence or engaging in coercion or deception
  • Taking or using an older person’s belongings or real estate without permission
  • Confidence scams (“cons”)
  • Taking out loans or purchasing a property in an older person’s name without their knowledge
  • Using fraud or deceit to induce an older person to sign a power of attorney document

Financial elder abuse can have a devastating impact on victims both economically and emotionally. Not only can this type of abuse significantly affect the overall value of a person’s estate, but it can also cause intense feelings of shame and embarrassment when the abuse is discovered.

Property Values Increases Potential For Financial Elder Abuse

An increase in Vancouver property values increases the potential for financial elder abuse:

  1. With the average price of Vancouver real estate exceeding $1 million, homes owned by the elderly are far more valuable than they have been historical. As well, in many cases, there is no mortgage as the owner’s paid off their mortgage over the many years that they lived in the home. This can make it relatively easy to obtain a mortgage on the home.
  1. We have been involved in several cases where relatives or “friends” of an elderly person have taken steps to have the vulnerable homeowner mortgage his or her home and then take some or all of the proceeds of the mortgage. This is typically done by taking the elderly owner to their bank and arranging a mortgage said to be for the benefit of the owner to cover “expenses” when in fact the primary purpose of the mortgage is to benefit the “friend” or relative who persuaded the vulnerable owner to mortgage their home.
  1. Unfortunately, banks, credit unions, lawyers and notaries are not as careful as they should be in identifying potentially abusive situations when presented with an elderly person who seeks a mortgage on their home. This has resulted in mortgages being granted by financial institutions and registered against the property in circumstances when common sense would dictate the financial institutions, lawyers and notaries make closer inquiries as to the reasons for the mortgage and the motivation of those pushing the elder owner into the mortgage.
  1. This abuse sometimes only becomes apparent to others when the “friend” or relative uses the money for their own purposes and the elder owner of the property doesn’t have sufficient money to make the necessary mortgage payments and the home ends up in foreclosure. At that point, the lawyer’s role is to attempt to set aside the mortgage on the basis that the elder owner was incapable and to pursue the “friend” or relative who made off with the money. While we have been successful on several occasions in doing that for victims, it is best to take steps to prevent that from occurring in the 1st.
  1. Practically speaking, if you hear of a relative who has entered into a mortgage of their property for no apparently good reason and you have concerns as to the fact they may be unduly influenced by a family member who would benefit from the mortgage proceeds, you should consider consulting a lawyer experienced in these matters as well as lodging a complaint with the office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.

Loved Ones can be the First Line of Defense

The fact that older people that they have been the victims of financial abuse (or simply are unaware that it is happening), many instances of abuse go unreported. As a result, it is. Some of the more common signs of financial elder abuse include the following:

  • A sudden change in an older person’s financial situation
  • Issues like disconnected utilities or unpaid bills in spite of the person getting regular income
  • An older person’s accounts show unexplained activity
  • An individual is isolating an older person from his or her friends or family
  • Sudden changes to the terms of a will or trust

Contact a Lawyer for Help

Individuals who suspect that they or their loved ones have been the victim of financial elder abuse should retain an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. The experienced elder abuse lawyers of McLarty Wolf are skilled advocates who are dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals who have been victimized by others. Call our office today at 604-688-9542 to schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers.

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