Financial abuse is the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else's money or property. It includes pressuring someone for money or property.
Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.
Some types of financial abuse are very clearly theft or fraud. For example, if someone cashes your pension cheque and keeps all or part of the money without your permission, or if they misuse a power of attorney to take money from your bank account for themselves, they are stealing from you. A power of attorney is a legal document that allows the person appointed as the "attorney" to make financial decisions on behalf of another person, called "the donor". The attorney is required to act in the interests of the donor, not in his or her own interests.
Other examples of financial abuse are harder to put a name to. These can include pressuring, forcing or tricking you into:
- Lending or giving away money, property or possessions
- Selling or moving from your home
- Making or changing your will or power of attorney
- Signing legal or financial documents that you don't understand
- Working for little or no money, including caring for children or grandchildren
- Making a purchase you don't want or need, or
- Providing food and shelter to others without being paid.
Where can I go for help?
If you think you are experiencing financial abuse, ask for help. The abuser may try to make you think that you are the one that is causing the problem, but this is not true. If you don't have a family member or close friend who can help you, there are community resources you can use to stop the abuse.
Ask your bank or credit union, your local seniors' centre, or even your doctor where you can go for advice and help. Or contact your local police.
Tips and safeguards
- Protect yourself–keep your financial and personal information in a safe place.
- Have an enduring or continuing power of attorney prepared appointing someone you can trust to look after you, so that even if you are ill and unable to look after yourself, your finances will be protected from others who might try to take advantage of you.
- Ask for help if you think you are experiencing financial abuse.
- Keep a record of money you give away and note whether it is a loan or a gift.
- For major decisions involving your home or other property, get your own legal advice before signing documents.
- Ask someone you trust to look over contracts and other papers before you sign them.
- Be very cautious if you open a joint bank account – the other person can take away all the money without asking.
- Make an effort to keep in touch with a variety of friends and family so you don't become isolated.