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More than a third of B.C. seniors taken financial advantage of, report finds

Vancity Credit Union says more needs to be done to prevent financial abuse of B.C.'s seniors after a survey it commissioned found almost nothing had changed in the three years since its last survey on the issue.

'Nothing has really changed [since 2014], and that's really the heartbreak of this report,' said Vancity

A report commissioned by Vancity Credit Union found that more than a third of Vancouver and Victoria seniors have experienced some form of elder abuse, often from their adult children or grandchildren.

Vancity Credit Union says more needs to be done to prevent financial abuse of B.C.'s seniors after a survey it commissioned found almost nothing had changed in the three years since its last survey on the issue.

The survey, conducted by the Mustel Group, found that 35 per cent of people in the greater Vancouver and Victoria areas over the age of 65 had experienced some form of financial abuse — more than a third of the senior population.

"They're being forced to lend money they don't mean to. They're being forced to sell off assets they don't wish to," said Catherine Ludgate, Vancity's manager of community investment.

Ludgate said the results are almost identical to the last time Vancity conducted a survey on elder financial abuse in 2014.

"Nothing has really changed, and that's really the heartbreak of this report," she said.

"In some ways ... things are worse."

'Living in fear and silence'

For Ludgate, one of the most alarming aspects of the report is that 37 per cent of reported senior financial abuse was happening at the hands of that senior's adult children or grandchildren.

"We're talking about seniors in vulnerable and dependent relationships where they may rely on their adult children for transport to the doctor or transport to the grocery store, or they may live in intergenerational families," Ludgate said.

"A senior will come in to do a transaction at the teller and be taking out $400 cash, and they took out $400 cash earlier in the week. And the staff person can see that senior's adult grandchild standing at the front door outside, motioning, so we know that senior is being directed by that grandchild to withdraw cash for whatever purpose. That's heartbreaking."

Catherine Ludgate of Vancity says bank staff often see seniors forced to withdraw money or sell off assets against their will, often at the behest of their adult children or grandchildren.

Ludgate says a combination of embarrassment about the situation and dependence on their abuser means seniors are often reluctant to report the abuse to anyone — if they even know how or where to do so.

The report found that 15 per cent of seniors reporting financial abuse were deeply embarrassed about it, and 10 per cent felt that reporting it would make their situation worse.

"They're living in fear and silence," Ludgate said.

Reaching seniors on their own terms

Ludgate says one of the main things the government could do to help alleviate the situation would be to increase funding to seniors advocacy services such as SAIL.

For its part, Vancity has been trying to adjust its strategy to more effectively reach financially abused seniors.

For example, Ludgate said one senior pointed out that an adult child taking financial advantage of their dependent senior parent likely wouldn't drive that parent to a workshop called "Preventing Seniors' Financial Abuse," and suggested offering the same workshop under a name like "Protecting Seniors' Wealth for the Long Term."

Ludgate said Vancity has also been hosting "tea and tech" sessions at local branches, billed as opportunities for seniors to have bank staff teach them how to use online banking on their phones or tablets.

"What it really provides is an opportunity for an intimate conversation person-to-person about what's going on in their financial life, and I think that's what's important," Ludgate said.

"We have to find other ways to meet those seniors where they are [and] frame it in a way that makes sense to them and doesn't keep them from coming in the door."

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.