Canada: Protecting Seniors From Fraud

As the baby boom generation ages, the balance of young and old is shifting, resulting in a disproportionate number of seniors. This is a new phenomenon, one that has made the complicated problems facing the elderly more prevalent than ever before. One area that is often overlooked when people consider caring for seniors is their financial needs and the ways that they are vulnerable to fraud. Committed by strangers, as well as unscrupulous friends and family members, this activity could include the illegal theft and misuse of a senior’s money or property and the concealing of assets that belong to the elderly individual. If you are a friend, family member or advisor assisting a senior, be sure to take the time to protect them from the many risks they are facing.

The problem with pride

In their dealings with accountants, seniors tend to have more pride than most clients. Even if they feel like they need help, they would rather suffer in silence than explain what’s wrong. As a result, they could be abused and never mention it, causing accountants to overlook precisely the problems they’ve been hired to identify. In addition, pride causes many seniors to insist that they stay in control of their own affairs, even after they have moved into a senior residence, exposing them to additional threats.

Trust issues

In some cases, seniors are trusting to a fault. If someone is nice enough to offer them help, some seniors will open up their bankbooks carelessly. As a friend, family member or advisor, you have to be careful about where they spend their money and who is authorized to sign on their behalf.

Memory and mobility

Seniors also tend to be forgetful. In addition to forgetting key responsibilities, they may mistakenly remember completing a task that they overlooked. As a result, they can easily fall behind on their bills. Physical limitations can also make them vulnerable to fraud, as some struggle to visit the bank or even sign cheques and other documents. If that’s a problem for them, they may ask someone else to sign on their behalf, introducing additional risks.

Put affairs in order

Seniors often postpone putting their affairs in order, but it’s vitally important that they do this while still of sound mind. For starters, they should make a list of where all their securities and insurances are located, making sure that somebody else is aware of this information. If this person is trusted by the senior, they can become co-signer on the account, allowing them to take responsibility if anything happens. If these measures aren’t taken, family members will be left searching through papers trying to figure out where everything is.

Take responsibility

To properly protect the interests of the seniors in your life, you have to be very familiar with the relevant laws. With that in mind, it’s important that you join forces with a reliable, communicative lawyer. You also need to realize that a great deal of work is involved in organizing a senior’s finances and there are professional services that you can turn to for help.

Protecting seniors

In our work with seniors, we try to protect them and make them aware of various agencies that are there to protect them. These agencies are different depending on the province that they live in, but there are health services — in Montreal, you can speak to a case worker at the CLSC — and other agencies that work with seniors. For example, you will find information and resources available through various government sites and elder associations, including AQDR (Association Quebecoise de defense des droits des personnes retraitees), CAVAC (Crime Victims Assistance Centre) and FADOQ (Federation de L’Age d’Or du Quebec). The banks are also trained to observe if any unusual transactions are happening or if an elderly person comes in with a strange person to withdraw cash. If they notice any suspicious activity, they are required to file a report.

Warning signs

Since seniors are often the targets of fraud, they need to watch out for red flags, including suspicious phone calls asking questions about their private banking, as these are usually telemarketing scams. For example, some seniors receive calls claiming they owe $1,000 in taxes. If the caller threatens jail time and offers to send someone to pick up the cheque, the senior should refuse to share any information (particularly bank info) and hang up immediately. Additional warning signs to watch for include unpaid bills, termination of utilities, missing valuables, unexplained changes to wills and cheques written to cash. If you notice any of these issues, don’t hesitate to investigate further and/or contact the police.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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