An invisible crime: Seniors financial abuse

WATCH: A new report indicates more than 40% of seniors say they’ve been financially abused. As Randene Neill reports, in many cases it’s by someone they know and trust.

Over the last seven years more than $100,000 has been stolen from Sherri’s bank account. The 71-year-old doesn’t want to be identified to protect her abuser, who happens to be her daughter.

Seniors financial abuse is called the invisible crime because it often goes unreported and it’s on the rise, according to a new report by Vancity Credit Union.

The report says more than 40 per cent of seniors say they’ve been financially abused and more than half of the victims knew their abusers because it was someone they trusted.

In Sherri’s case, she trusted her daughter until after she noticed sizeable chunks of money go missing from her bank account and asked the bank to investigate.

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“I just started noticing that $500 had gone missing and then another $500,” Sherri told Global News.

“I had them look at the bank machine camera and it was my daughter. She’s carried this on for so long; she’s stolen well over $100,000 from me.”

According to Sherri, her daughter stole $30,000 while she was having knee replacement surgery, has taken cheques, used her credit card and eventually gained access to Sherri’s bank account. It was that action that really frightened Sherri.

“I thought one day my house would be sold,” she says.

This type of abuse seniors suffer is not something that’s uncommon and due to the increase in incidents banks are starting to get involved.

“We’ve been doing financial literacy work in communities, but we became aware that understanding the abuse, of the financial abuse of seniors, was an area where we did not have adequate training materials,” says Vancity’s Catherine Ludgate.

“Nor did we know the potential scope of abuse among our own membership.”

Now they know.

The report uncovered a number of common experiences with seniors like: having someone borrow money without their knowledge or refusing to pay back a loan; being pressured into giving money; having their signature forged or using their credit or debit card without their permission.

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Martha Jane Lewis, a lawyer and the executive director of the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, has been privy to some of the saddest cases involving financial elder abuse and says it’s been steadily increasing.

BCCEA has a phone line that runs seven days a week, 12 hours a day and Lewis says 70 per cent of their calls involve financial abuse, usually by a child or grandchild. And in most cases the financial abuse is usually accompanied by emotional abuse as well, Lewis explains.

“We had three cases over the last month where parents signed their houses over to their kids and the kids show up a few days later and kick the parents out,” Lewis says.

“One couple ended up in a shelter and the other two are now living with relatives.”

But Lewis says one improvement she’s noticed over the past three years is financial institutions like Vancity taking the step to get involved if they suspect elder abuse.

Ludgate says their study showed there’s a huge amount of fear, reluctance, embarrassment, humiliation and vulnerability when they’re being abused by someone in their family.

But she says they “should not be embarrassed because like any kind of abuse, it’s not their fault.”

Instead there are steps seniors should take — understand their financial information; make sure they’re opening their statements every month; set up auto-deposit into their bank account for their government and pension cheques; and keeping their financial and personal information in a safe place.

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“The way to break the cycle is having more and more people talking about it — along with working with allied professionals to raise the conversation about financial abuse,” says Ludgate.

Even though she’s incredibly hurt andstill dealing with her situation, Sherri is hoping by coming forward and sharing her story it will help others avoid the same situation.

“Why would somebody who you’ve coddled their whole life, how could they do something, how could they love you? They can’t love you and do this sort of thing,” Sherri told Global News through tears.

“I’ve lost 20 years off my life. I used to be so much younger than my years but now I’m depressed. I just want to be closed in. I don’t even want to go out anymore. I’m going to have to sell my home. That’s where it’s gone to.”

The single mom and former interior designer was never able to charge her daughter for the stolen money but says she hopes her experience can open people’s eyes and let them know that this type of abuse happens.

“I planned for [my retirement] to then have my kid steal it. It’s so deprecating.”
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Resources: BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support (604) 688-1927; Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) (604) 437-1940 or 1-866-437-1940.

~ with files from Randene Neill







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