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Financial abuse: signs and solutions

Nayeem is 85 and lives alone. Last year, he hired a local handyman named Eric to fix a leaky faucet in the kitchen. Since then, Eric has convinced Nayeem that his home needs several expensive repairs and each job seems to be more expensive than the one before. Eric also convinced Nayeem to give him a key to his house and he comes and goes as he pleases. Nayeem has noticed things have gone missing and when he asked Eric about it, Eric got angry. Now Nayeem feels afraid and constantly pressured to give Eric money. He’s also embarrassed to be in this situation and doesn’t know where to turn for help.

Nayeem is a victim of financial abuse.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is when someone’s finances or property is being misused directly or indirectly by someone else. It could be committed through fraud, deceit, theft or force. Financial abuse can involve any amount of money or type of asset. Though scams occur, it is more common for the abuser to be known to the victim.

Financial abuse can take many forms including:

  • Manipulating someone to give away money or buy a product or service.
  • Misusing joint banking accounts.
  • Misusing someone’s credit cards.
  • Forging someone’s signature on cheques or cashing cheques without their permission.
  • Misusing a power of attorney. An example of this would be an abuser selling the victim’s home and then keeping some or all the money against their will.
  • Moving into someone’s home and not paying a fair share of expenses.
  • Fraud and scams.

Who is most vulnerable to financial abuse?

Financial abuse can happen to anyone, but there are groups who are typically at a higher risk. Victims of financial abuse are most commonly the elderly, dependent or disabled adults, and newcomers to Canada. Commonly, victims of financial abuse tend to be physically, emotionally or mentally unwell, marginalized and usually alone.

Financial abuse often goes unreported. In many cases the victim feels ashamed and embarrassed, but sometimes are unable to report it due to physical or cognitive disabilities. Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, but it can happen to anyone.

Unfortunately, abusers are usually known to the victim and could be in a position of trust or control. It could be a family member, neighbour, or a professional like a caregiver, salesperson or contractor. In more rare cases, financial abuse is committed by a stranger through a scam or fraud.

What are the signs of financial abuse?

Warning signs that you or someone you care about is a victim of financial abuse include:

  • Unpaid bills or receiving notices of eviction or discontinued utility services.
  • Unexplained account withdrawals, transfers between bank accounts and other financial transactions.
  • Suspicious signatures on cheques or other financial documents.
  • Credit offers arriving in the mail, which could mean someone has used that address or name to apply for loans or credit cards.
  • Sudden change of living arrangements with an unfair division of expenses.
  • Confusion around finances and making simple financial decisions.
  • Major discrepancy between income and standard of living.
  • You or the individual feels pressured into selling property, investing, making changes to a will, sign legal documents, or give money away.

How can I protect myself from financial abuse?

To protect yourself from financial abuse, ensure your financial affairs are up to date and that you are aware of everything that is happening with your money and assets. Open and read your mail personally and always review and track your credit card and bank account statements.

Involve a lawyer for any major decisions regarding your property and assets, loaning money or changes to your will. You should also involve a lawyer if you are granting someone power of attorney over your finances and assets. A lawyer can include limitations on the attorney’s authority or require a third-party to be involved in major decisions, helping to prevent misuse of power of attorney altogether.

Do not let anyone pressure you into making financial decisions. Even if they are family, remind them that you have the right to make your own decisions and they need to respect that right.

If you suspect someone is tampering with your finances or that you’ve fallen for a scam, report the incident to the police.

How can I help myself or a loved one escape financial abuse?

If you suspect you are a victim of abuse, start by calling the police. You might think that your situation isn’t serious enough to contact the police, but you could be wrong. No matter what, the police will be able to help you and determine if the situation is criminal or point you toward other community services that can help your specific situation.

If you feel like you or anyone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.

For more information and services, visit:

ATB Financial

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