Canadian seniors are among the richest cohorts in the world. This fact also makes them an attractive target for financial scams of various sorts.
According to a 2016 report from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Canadians can expect a $750 billion windfall from their aging relatives over the next decade, a figure that is 50 per cent higher than the amount passed on in the previous decade.
This ongoing transfer – whose volume will only increase in coming decades – has already shaped the Canadian economy by contributing to high real estate prices, as flush seniors help their children and grandchildren enter competitive real estate markets. It also speaks to the wealth of Canadian seniors, a condition that has already drawn the interest of financial scam artists, some of whom are even relatives.
“Elder financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse, and its prevalence is increasing in sheer numbers,” write Marian Passmore and Laura Tamblyn Watts in a 2017 report titled Report on Vulnerable Investors: Elder Abuse, Financial Exploitation, Undue Influence and Diminished Mental Capacity.
This prediction rests on several premises.
The number of Canadian seniors will rise in coming years. Seniors already make up almost 17 per cent of the Canadian population, according to Statistics Canada, which predicts seniors could represent between 23 and 25 per cent of the total population by 2036, thanks to improved longevity.
But if seniors will live longer lives, their medical needs will inevitably intensify with age, leading to various forms of temporary or permanent cognitive impairments or diminished capacity.
“This cognitive decline occurs at the same time that people are likely to face more complex financial decisions involving more complex products, and have succeeded in accumulating more wealth,” Passmore and Watts write. “In addition, the older consumer is less well placed to be able to address the consequences of any poor financial decision at this later stage of life.”
In short, seniors are vulnerable targets, and once hurt, have little chance of recovery.
But if financial abuse can devastate older adults, who often depend on fixed incomes, it often remains unreported, often due to a combination of lack of awareness of the abuse, fear of being considered mentally incapable because the abuse happened, stigma of family violence, shame, or because the abuser may also be a caregiver or an important social connection, Passmore and Watts write.
Those concerned about elder abuse including financial abuse can contact the Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) toll free at 1-866-437-1940 to talk to someone about situations where they feel they are being abused or mistreated, or to receive information about elder abuse prevention. In addition to specific resources, the literature also warns against seniors isolating themselves, and a culture of silence.