For as long as there has been money, there have been unscrupulous people trying to steal it. Scammers look for any vulnerability they can to gain an edge, and sometimes that makes people living with dementia prime targets.
“Anyone with reduced cognitive function is especially at risk for financial abuse,” says Jill Chambers, president and founder of Financial Concierge Inc. “It may affect their executive functions, so they’re not able to understand clearly what is being asked of them, or to easily make decisions.”
Chambers, a certified financial planner who also holds a degree in nursing, started Financial Concierge in 2018. The service is designed for seniors and their care partners to handle the day-to-day complexities of their financial lives: document organization, bill payment and statement reconciliation, power of attorney, and estate administration. Chambers says approximately 90 per cent of her clients have been victims of financial abuse, and, most of the time, it’s by family members.
“That’s the first thing I take my clients through when they are thinking about giving someone power of attorney,” she says. “Is that person trustworthy? And are they even capable of doing it?”
Chambers says seniors often find they have limited options when it comes time to appoint an executer who they can trust to take over their finances. This lack of options and isolation makes them vulnerable because if they do get taken advantage of, “they’re not going to report the person to the police, they’re just going to endure it,” she says.
But what about when the scam is coming from outside the house? Isolation often plays a role in many of the scams seniors fall victim to from strangers as well, Chambers says.
“The majority of the people that have landlines are going to be seniors, and they may be socially isolated and pleased to have someone to chat with on the phone,” she says. “That makes them an easy mark.”
There are many things you can do to protect yourself or a loved one from financial abuse. David McKee, community engagement coordinator with the Better Business Bureau in Calgary, says care partners who notice something is off in their loved one should consider if they have been financially abused.
“If they seem agitated or like they don’t want to talk about something, it might be because they are going through something like this,” McKee says.
He adds that, while the scams he dubs “the classics” are still common — like someone impersonating a Canada Revenue agent on the phone to steal money or an identity — seniors are targeted from places we often don’t consider.
“Online dating is a big area for fraud. It’s not just young people using it, everyone is on there now,” he says.
Chambers and McKee agree that any transaction involving wire transfers, sensitive information (like a SIN number) or writing cheques to someone’s personal account for an investment or service should be looked at as highly suspicious. Chambers adds that having a care partner listed as a point of contact with their loved one’s bank can be critical in stopping a scam that is underway.
“If the bank flags something suspicious going on in your account and your capacity is diminishing and they don’t have anyone else to contact, they are basically helpless to stop it,” she says.
McKee says the embarrassment of being duped can often make a bad situation much worse and that talking about what happened is the first step to fixing the situation.
“Don’t feel bad about being scammed,” he says. “Very intelligent, well-educated people fall for these things all the time. These people are good at what they do.”