How to spot and prevent elder financial abuse

Canada Life - Jul 01, 2022
Elder financial abuse is a crime and is the most common type of abuse against older adults
Older mother and son reviewing papers together.

How to spot and prevent elder financial abuse

Media stories of gift card scams or other ruses by strangers targeting senior citizens are common. Despite these stories, elder financial abuse is one of the most underreported forms of abuse, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And it’s not always a stranger who is the abuser. While a family member is the abuser in one-third of cases reported to police, the person committing the abuse could be a trusted neighbour, friend, new love interest or other support person.

What is elder financial abuse?

According to the Government of Canada, “financial (or economic) abuse involves acting without consent in a way that financially benefits one person at the expense of another.”

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced social contacts of seniors for health reasons, which has led to further isolation and increased vulnerability of senior citizens to many types of fraud.

What are examples of elder abuse?

Elder financial abuse is a crime and is the most common type of abuse against older adults. Some examples of elder financial abuse include:

  • Charging personal items (groceries or car repairs) to a victim’s credit card or bank account 
  • “Borrowing” money, household items or a vehicle and not returning it
  • Moving into the victim’s home without permission
  • Cashing cheques on the victim’s behalf or otherwise taking money
  • Pressuring an older adult to sign legal documents that they don’t understand

Attempts to control an older adult’s finances or coerce older adults to make financial decisions also qualify as elder abuse.

What are the signs of elder financial abuse?

The signs of elder financial abuse are not as visible as other forms of abuse such as physical abuse or neglect. Some signs of elder financial abuse include missing documents (bank statements, wills, contracts), unexplained financial transactions on credit cards or bank accounts, or a sudden interest in the elder person’s care or finances from someone who was previously not involved.

Signs someone is experiencing financial abuse include:


Because victims often have cognitive impairment related to aging, victims may not realize they’ve been financially abused until well after it happens. They may feel undue shame because they didn’t see the financial issues sooner or embarrassed they misjudged who to trust.


A victim of elder financial abuse may not want to discuss finances, family relations, home maintenance or other topics. This could be to protect an abuser. Or it could be because they no longer trust anyone.

Denial or defensiveness 

Your loved one may not want to believe that the person they trusted has taken advantage of them. They may become defensive when you raise the subject and deny that any abuse has taken place.


If an older adult begins to self-isolate, this may be a sign of elder financial abuse. Your loved one may be isolating themselves to protect their abuser, particularly if they rely on their abuser for food or other care. Victims of financial abuse experience anxiety and may avoid contact with others as a coping mechanism or to avoid further victimization.

What do you do when someone takes advantage of the elderly?

If you suspect someone has taken financial advantage of a loved one, the best course of action is to first speak with your loved one. Voice your concerns in a gentle, caring manner. Depending on the nature of the financial incident, you may need to contact the police. It is helpful to have a trusted third-party expert, such as a lawyer or a financial security advisor who can help to oversee finances and provide objective investment or financial advice.

How can you protect loved ones from elder abuse?

There are basic measures to minimize the opportunity for cash in an older person’s home, such as ensuring direct deposit of cheques and automatic utility payments. It is also a good idea to document the existence of valuables through photographs and consider storing them in a safety deposit box. Additional measures include:

Power of attorney

Powers of attorney exist for both personal care, which includes health decisions, and property, which include finances. Visiting a lawyer or notary to formalize a power of attorney while your loved one can make decisions can help avoid problems later.


The best way to protect your loved ones from financial abuse is transparency and open communication—both with your loved one and other family members. An isolated senior is more likely to be targeted for financial abuse than one whose family is close.

Lean into all aspects of your loved one’s care—not just finances. Financial abuse victims are more likely to confide their worries in a trusted family member. Regular family meetings to review all aspects of a loved one’s care encourage transparency and communication among the older adult’s care team. 

Support resources—if you suspect elder financial abuse

It’s most important to remember that you’re not alone and help is available. If you suspect that you or someone you love is being financially abused, you can seek help through your bank, a trusted family member or even a medical professional such as a doctor or nurse.

For more information about elder financial abuse:

If you want to discuss how you can take steps to protect yourself or your loved ones from financial abuse, contact me.