You've seen the ads on TV: Young man reaches into his grandma's wallet and takes her money and then storms away. The Statistics Canada reported that in 2007 seven per cent of older adults are suffering some form of emotional or financial abuse at the hands of their children, partners or caregivers. That number is probably a huge understatement since experts believe the rate of unreported incidents is much higher.
Having witnessed it with my own eyes I know that often the abused doesn't even know they're being taken advantage of. Their love and sense of responsibility blind them to the fact that their child, grandchild or partner is a manipulating miscreant.
What exactly is financial abuse? It's the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else’s money or property. It includes whining and bullying to get someone to hand over money or other valuables. Sometimes it's fraud. Sometimes it's theft. It includes tricking the people who love you into "saving" you, or pressuring elders who have always felt responsible to give away or "lend" you money. The elderly end up going without, living a meager and pathetic life as they "help" the ones who should know and do better.
You're probably too smart, too strong, too savvy to get caught in such an emotional and financial mess as you get older. But what about your mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather or great-aunt? Is there some member of your family that's bleeding them dry? Would you even know so that you could step in to help?
If you think a family member may be taking advantage of someone you love, don't let the thought of the mess and the fight that will ensue stop you from stepping in.
Here's what to watch for:
- Unexplained changes in bank accounts
- Unauthorized ATM withdrawals
- New joint accounts
- Suggested changes to wills or other financial documents
- A drop in cash flow or a change in financial holdings
- Suspicious signatures on cheques or other documents
- Credit charges that seem inappropriate
- Jewelry or other valuables that seem to be missing
- People living with the elder without contributing in any way
And here's what to do:
Contact the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly for guidance. They have online resources, experts and publications that will help you figure out how to address the issue.
If the situation is serious enough and involves theft or fraud, call the cops. Many, like the Toronto Police offer help. Be prepared however for some push back since very often elder abuse isn't seen as a crime but as a "family dispute."
As a last resort, get in touch with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee . Know that they are underfunded but will do their level best if they deem the situation to be serious.
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