Is a Senior in Your Life the Victim of Financial Abuse? Learn How You Can Help

A senior couple sitting at a table talking about finances.

Financial abuse of seniors is more common than you might think. According to a study by Vancity, 41% of seniors located in Victoria and Vancouver’s Lower Mainland region report having experienced at least one situation that would be classified as financial abuse. But given how few people understand or recognize what financial abuse really is – and how many wouldn’t feel comfortable reporting it even if they did – chances are that percentage is much higher.

The reality is, financial abuse may be happening among your family and friends. But what exactly is it? And how can you recognize and prevent it?

Darryl Brown, Genus’ Head of Eastern Canada/Associate Client Relationship Manager and Kathleen Cunningham, an Independent Consultant and former Executive Director of the BC Law Institute/Canadian Centre for Elder Law, share insights on the topic of Financial Abuse of Older Adults in our webinar this month. Here’s a sneak preview of their conversation.

What does financial abuse of seniors typically look like?

Imagine a neighbour or an elderly family member suddenly has someone caring for them because of an illness, injury or loss. It’s likely one of their children or a close family member, and this person may even have moved into their house to help out. 

That adult helper may begin to live off the senior’s resources, or may not contribute to covering their own living expenses. They might even go further and ask to borrow money (that they never pay back), or begin putting pressure on the senior to change their will, their power of attorney or other legal documents. All of this may be paired with additional forms of abuse too, including physical neglect, emotional abuse or restricting the senior’s ability to connect or communicate with others.

“Financial abuse is defined as the deliberate mistreatment of adults, which causes them damage or loss in respect to their financial affairs,” says Cunningham. “This could include coercing them to give money or change a will, spending their money without permission, misusing the power of attorney, stealing their property or selling it without permission, forcing them to sell their home, or even sharing their home without sharing expenses. This is theft and there are criminal provisions for it.”

How can I help someone experiencing financial abuse?

Recognizing the signs of financial abuse isn’t always easy or straightforward. Neither is taking action. The reality is, parents of all ages are often inclined to help and support their children – even if what they think of as support is actually abuse. But some cases of theft, coercion or misuse of power can be pretty clear cut, and if you suspect someone you know may be in this situation, there are a few things you can do. 

The first is to confirm what’s happening. “You’ll need to talk to the abuser and/or the victim. But be sensitive,” Cunningham says. “Tell them what you’re observing, rather than using accusations.” If you’re confronting the abuser, “give them a chance to respond, keeping in mind that they do have a relationship with the family member – and relationships can be very nuanced.” 

While the abuser may deny it, the victim, too, may not be inclined to admit to what’s happening. 

“It’s not easy for people who are being abused to be open about it,” says Brown. “There’s a lot of embarrassment or shame attached to these kinds of situations. Many people don’t like to talk about money at all, let alone when they’ve been taken advantage of.”

The bottom line? Be sure about what’s going on before going any further.

How do I get help to stop financial abuse of an older adult?

Getting educated about this topic is a good first step. Then you’ll need to decide who to call on for help. That will depend on the situation. For example, you may require the help of a doctor if illness, injury or cognitive decline is part of the picture. Or, you might choose to contact the senior’s lawyer. In some cases, social workers may be part of the equation. In others, you may choose to call the police.

The senior’s wealth manager, too, can help. “We’re in a position where we can create space for people to get educated about this topic,” Brown says. “We’re here to share stories, lessons and solutions so we can try to be more proactive and empowered when it comes to recognition and solutions.” 

Be sure to check the laws and resources in your province or territory, because “they’re different in every region,” Cunningham says. “In BC, for example, you can call the Public Guardian and Trustee of BC and they can help direct you to the best course of action. These situations often involve lawyers, police, social workers and doctors,” Cunningham adds. “It can get complicated.” 


Are you concerned about your loved one or someone you know becoming a victim of financial abuse or neglect? Join us April 18, 2024 at 10 am PST for a free webinar on Financial Abuse of Older Adults to learn more about what you can do to help in and prevent these situations.


  1. Suffering in silence: The financial abuse of seniors in … – vancity. Available at: (Accessed: 02 April 2024).


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