The most common form of elder abuse is financial abuse – defined as any improper conduct that results in an abuser profiting personally or monetarily, or a senior citizen suffering a personal or monetary loss as the result of such action.
To implement an outreach educational program on this subject, Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto received a grant from the federal government and will be presenting “Food For Thought: Protecting Seniors from Financial Abuse,” a series of five free workshops designed to help seniors and their families recognize, and protect themselves from, financial predators.
Workshops will be held at noon, beginning with a light lunch in the Fischtein Hall, followed by a guest speaker and a question-and-answer period. The seminars commence Sept. 14 and will run monthly, concluding in January 2018. Guests will hear from a panel of experts in law, financial services, social work, law enforcement and journalism, as well as from some who experiences financial abuse.
“You read about these stories in the paper, but when it brings a personal face to the situation, it brings it home. The best way for people to protect themselves is to learn more about the problem. These seminars are a valuable opportunity for the community to become more aware, and a great way to keep an eye out for others,” said Eleanor Minuk, the event’s co-chair.
Clara McGregor, staff litigator at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, explains that financial elder abuse “can take many different forms. It can be something as simple as a grandchild taking advantage of his grandparent, knowing the elder will lend the child money any time he asks, to something very serious such as a close family member or friend tricking a senior into either adding the friend as a joint account holder on significant investment accounts, or a joint title holder on real estate, or emptying the senior’s bank account without his awareness.
“Seniors seem to be particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse, because there can be issues of declining capacity – maybe less awareness of what their financial situation is. They become forgetful as they get older and usually are less familiar with technology. Sometimes we have clients whose family members have set up online banking functions that the bank account holder himself doesn’t really understand; nor does he understand the significance of allowing someone access through online banking and all of the risks that could pose.”
Elder abuse is drastically underreported.
“There are a multitude of reasons, the main one being that the perpetrator is often a family member. The victim’s child is the perpetrator in 43 per cent of cases. Victims are often reluctant to report the crimes because they feel dependent on the abuser, they’re protecting the abuser, they feel an unhealthy relationship is better than nothing, or they feel shame, embarrassment or guilt,” said Jason Peddle, the Toronto police’s vulnerable persons co-ordinator.
According to Elder Abuse Ontario, financial abuse indicators include: misusing a senior’s property and/or funds; obtaining power of attorney; theft; forgery; sharing the senior’s home without paying a fair share of the expenses; the unexplained disappearance of personal belongings, such as clothes or jewelry; unduly pressuring a senior to move from, sell or relinquish his or her home or other personal property; signing legal documents that the senior does not fully understand; and giving unauthorized money to relatives or caregivers.
Awareness-building and developing lifelong good habits are the key to protecting oneself.
“The best advice I can give is when you are drawing up a power of attorney document, you name two people as your power of attorney – you have the option of acting jointly or severally. Jointly means you have to agree and that puts a check and balance on somebody gone rogue and emptying your bank account for their own benefit, because the other person, presumably another family member, will have to agree with the decision,” said Pebble.
“Do not sign documents unless you have read them carefully and see a lawyer if you don’t understand what the document means. That’s where a lot of the lawsuits begin,” added McGregor.
To register for these seminars, contact Tanya at 416-633-3838.