Seniors need better protection against financial abuse, says the Crown corporation that regulates financial and consumer services in New Brunswick.
Twenty-five per cent of people surveyed by the Financial and Consumer Services Commission last year thought they knew a senior being exploited or abused financially, but 78 per cent of those people said they didn't report the abuse to anybody.
The commission is launching consultations across the province to find ways to prevent and respond to the range of financial abuse inflicted on seniors, said Rick Hancox, the commission CEO.
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He said abuse can be as simple as a senior giving a credit card to a relative or caregiver for groceries and seeing that person use it for personal purchases.
Abuse can be as extreme as a family member pressuring a senior to sell assets such as a home or to sign over power of attorney.
"Financial abuse is ill-defined, there's no definition of it," said Hancox. "It's unclear as a crime and it's very hard to prove."
Afraid to report
He said financial abuse of seniors is an underreported crime, which victims hesitate to report because it might show they're "weak and can't look after affairs."
Sometimes, family members respond by putting the senior in a institution.
Senior financial abuse becomes a crime the moment it's started, he said.
"If my intent is to convince you to give me money under the premise of it being a loan, and I have no intention of returning it, or paying it back, then I'm misleading you," he said.
Trust led to destitution
He used the example of a woman who was bedridden and relied on a relative to drive her to the doctor. She gave the relative access to her bank account to pay bills and groceries.
"He took advantage of that situation and cleaned out her life savings and left her destitute," he said.
He said a financial adviser is often the first to suspect financial abuse. The adviser might spot unusual activity in a client's accounts or notice somebody showing up with a client and providing instructions.
What can adviser do?
And if the abuser suspects the financial adviser is suspicious, the culprit might transfer accounts to someone new.
Even the proper response of the adviser isn't always clear.
"Who do they report it to? What about privacy concerns? What about the risk of getting sued?"
Hancox is hopeful government will enact legislative changes such as providing a formal definition of senior abuse and protection for a business or person who reports financial abuse against "frivolous lawsuits."
And it's important seniors themselves become aware of the dangers of financial abuse and know how to protect themselves.
5-city round of consultations
In November and December, consultations will take place in Edmundston, Bathurst, Miramichi, Moncton and Saint John.
Throughout the meetings, the public will be asked for input on:
- Opportunities for legislative change.
- Challenges of reporting and investigating financial abuse.
- Best practices for industry and guidance for those who spot signs their clients are being financially abused.
- A more collaborative approach between government departments and agencies to address the issue.