In November 2011, police announced a 33-year-old Markham man had been arrested in connection with a fraud investigation. Employed as a personal live-in caregiver, he was accused of defrauding an 84-year-old man who has Alzheimer’s disease. In just under a year of employment, he is alleged to have stolen more than $100,000 from his charge by accessing the man’s bank accounts. Police believe there may be more victims.
Barbara Schuh, director of field operations at Home Care Assistance, has over 15 years experience working as a geriatric care manager and home care provider. She first wrote about the topic of elder financial abuse five years ago. Like the police and others who work closely with seniors, she has seen an alarming increase in the number of cases like this. She points to a study done by MetLife in the United States that revealed in 2010 alone $2.9 million was taken from older adults.
More incidents and allegations are coming before the courts here in Ontario. In Oshawa, a woman in her 60s is serving a sentence for defrauding her mother, a crime she was convicted of in 2009. As her mother’s power of attorney, the woman robbed her, an Alzheimer’s patient, of $92,000.
In Ottawa, the police department has a dedicated elder abuse unit and between 2005 and 2010 it conducted 680 investigations. Sixty-two per cent of these involved allegations of financial abuse.
In Toronto, the ombudsman for banking services and investments, an organization that resolves disputes between banking and investment firms, investigated a case where a son convinced his mother to set up a line of credit against her house. After $90,000 disappeared, the woman could no longer make payments and her home was put up for sale.
Elder financial abuse is often a hidden crime that isn’t talked about or reported. According to the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat, the signs can be difficult to recognize. Rather than a single event, it often takes the form of a pattern that happens over time. While it’s the most common form of elder abuse in Canada, physical and emotional abuse may occur at the same time.
Financial abuse is defined as the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else’s money or property. It includes pressuring, forcing or tricking someone into giving away money, property or possessions.
In the majority of cases, abusers have a close connection to the victim and exploit this connection. Family members, friends, neighbours and caregivers are often the ones committing these crimes.
Staff at the seniors’ secretariat want everyone to understand elder abuse, recognize the signs and know how to prevent it.
The following strategies can help:
1. Be cautious
Be wary of friends, family or caregivers who express unusual interest in your financial affairs. That said, you should have one trusted family member or friend to whom you can disclose financial matters. This person can help spot any potential abuse.
2. Check and double-check
Verify that people are who they say they are. Make sure any charities or companies that contact you are legitimate. If someone comes to your door, ask for and check identification. You can also call the company or charity to make sure it has representatives currently canvassing your community.
Request written information and check references. Get a second or third quote or estimate before committing to a service or purchase. If you’re looking to hire a private caregiver or companion for a senior, get a police background check.
Closely monitor the financial accounts of elderly or vulnerable family members.
3. Don’t be rushed into making a decision
Take your time. Put an end to high-pressure sales pitches at your door by refusing to commit to anything. Insist on doing your own research in your own good time. Anyone who comes to your home pitching a product or service can leave promotional material behind for you to review at your leisure.
If a company or service provider asks for money up front, consider it a red flag. A reputable company will not require this.
4. Don’t let strangers into your home
Salespeople may appear friendly and knowledgeable and offer enticing home repairs or other services to gain access to your home. Do not allow this. As a policy, simply refuse entry.
If you have a home repair or service person working in your home, do not leave them in your house alone.
If you enter into a contract, provincial laws exist to help protect you. For example, in Ontario, if you have already signed a contract, you have 10 days during which you can cancel it.
5. Remember nothing is free
Throw away or, better yet, shred any sweepstakes cheques that arrive in the mail. Never send money to receive a “free” prize or vacation. Don’t fall prey to lottery ticket scams that promise big future payouts. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Also ignore promises of easy credit or loans. Many of these require you to pay a fee before you receive the funds. This is illegal in Ontario and should be reported immediately.
6. Track your money
Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements. Report any discrepancies immediately. Track account balances closely, know how much you have and how much you’ve recently spent at all times. This will make it easier to notice any irregularities. Make note of any money you give away and whether it is a loan or a gift.
Think twice about opening a joint bank account. There are fewer risks if you’re the only one able to access your funds.
Get a receipt for every product and service.
SOURCE: The York Region
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