There’s no doubt everyone’s feeling vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a group of people who are more vulnerable than most: seniors.

Seniors face greater health risks with COVID-19. They also face greater risks of isolation and abuse. That’s because many safety checks, like regular family or friend visits, have ended.

Luckily, people have stepped up to help. For example, neighbourhoods have formed groups to deliver groceries, prescriptions and supplies to seniors. Many stores now have special senior-only shopping hours. Plus, the federal government has contributed $9 million to help connect seniors to the resources they need.1

But, here’s a note of caution. While most people have the best of intentions when helping, a small segment of “helpers” don’t. And that’s where seniors could be at additional risk.

It can be hard to imagine that anyone would want to harm an elderly person. But, the reality is, financial elder abuse happens. Here’s how you – along with support from a Sun Life Financial advisor – can help the seniors in your life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the signs of financial elder abuse?

Unfortunately, financial elder abuse is common. This form of abuse is happening across the country every day. And with distance measures in place, it may be harder to connect with your elderly loved ones. The last thing you want to see is their savings taken by someone exploiting their vulnerabilities.

You can’t predict with certainty who are most vulnerable. However, there can be warning signs. Here are a few to consider:

  • Declining mental abilities. Those with an overly trusting personality or declining mental capacity may be the most vulnerable.
  • New relationships. A new relationship can be a sign of potential abuse. Listen for references to:
    • a “new friend” or “sweetheart,”
    • distant family members who become more involved, or
    • a caregiver who takes on additional care, like handling day-to-day finances.
  • Personality changes. Listen for deviations in their behaviour. Your loved one might sound like they’re being “coached” by another person while on the phone. Even if the changes are subtle, they could be a sign of trouble.
  • Financial changes. If you’re involved in their finances, watch for sudden or unusual changes in their banking activity. Changes to legal documents, such as powers of attorney and wills, are also a red flag.

How to talk to a loved one about financial elder abuse

Discussing financial elder abuse with seniors can be hard. If your loved one is showing signs, it’s critical to have the conversation with them as soon as possible. Remember to offer your help and be non-judgmental.

If you suspect financial abuse, consider asking questions like:

  • Do you feel safe?
  • Is anyone in your life hurting you or making you feel uncomfortable?
  • Is anyone relying on you for money?
  • Have you felt pressured to make changes to your will or beneficiaries?
  • Do you have regret or concerns about financial decisions you’ve made recently?

How to help prevent financial elder abuse

If your loved one isn’t showing signs of financial elder abuse, you can help prevent it. The next time you talk, consider sharing these tips with your senior family member:

  • There are scams that target seniors; you need to be aware. (Provide examples as proof.)
  • Keep your personal documents safe and secure.
  • Never share your passwords or personal identification numbers (PIN).
  • Shred bills and statements that identify your personal information.
  • Don’t click on pop-up windows, respond to emails or open attachments from anyone you don’t know.
  • Never sign a contract without giving yourself time to think it over.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who accidentally sends you money.
  • Ask for proof of identification before hiring service providers.

How can an advisor help?

Does your loved one work with an advisor? If they do, now is a good time for their advisor to reach out and check in.

An advisor can help protect seniors from financial elder abuse by simply talking with them. Phone calls or video conferencing are great ways to do this. A few simple questions can help understand their needs during the pandemic:

  • How are you feeling, both mentally and physically?
  • Do you have the care and support you need?
  • How is your family being affected?
  • Are you worried about your finances, or those of your family members?
  • Are you giving or loaning money to family members who aren’t working?

Now is also an excellent time to develop a relationship with your loved one’s advisor. It can be as simple as joining video or conference calls. You’ll need permission from your loved one first.

Need more information? Download this guide: Protecting seniors from the risks of cognitive decline and financial exploitation. 

Don’t have an advisor yet? It’s never too late for you and your family to start working with an advisor. Most Sun Life Financial advisors now connect with Clients by phone or using video-conferencing tools like Zoom. Find an advisor today.

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1 Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), Federal government pledges $9 million to support seniors during pandemic, March 30 2020