Elder financial abuse a concern: minister
CHRIS MORRIS LEGISLATURE BUREAU
FREDERICTON – The federal government is looking at ways of empowering Canada’s banks to detect and report cases of financial abuse of the elderly.
Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors, held roundtable meetings in Fredericton on Wednesday to discuss two growing problems facing Canada’s seniors: financial abuse and the pressures older workers face trying to balance jobs while caring for aging relatives.
Wong said the sessions are part of a series of cross-Canada consultations taking place over the summer to guide the federal government in developing new policies.
She said it is estimated between four and 10 per cent of seniors experience some sort of abuse – physical, emotional and financial. However, she said only one in five cases is reported.
“These are hidden in families,” she said, referring specifically to the financial abuse.
“They are hidden in institutions and they are hidden in financial transactions. It’s like an onion – we have to peel it back layer by layer. I’m asking for ideas on how to identify and how to solve these challenges.” She said there is draft legislation tabled in the House of Commons that would empower banks and financial institutions to report any suspected fraud or financial abuse to appropriate authorities.
“It is sitting in the House,” she said.”We are still refining and debating it. But it is something the banks welcome. We have to find a balance between privacy issues and the authority to empower the banks.” Wong said it is necessary to give agencies like financial institutions the power to root out elder abuse because older people themselves often shy away from going to the police or pursuing prosecution.
She said that is because the abuser often is a trusted friend,companion or relative.
“It is very complex and very sensitive,” Wong said.
“Statistics show, unfortunately, that many of the abusers are trusted friends and even family members … An elderly person may say, ‘OK, I don’t want to put my son in jail.’ There is that reluctance. I have heard of cases like that. So we are looking at other mechanisms where reporting doesn’t necessarily have to come from the seniors.” As the recession drags on, some law-enforcement officials have said they’re seeing an uptick in reports of elder fraud committed both by strangers and by family members.
The scams include identity theft, telemarketing cons, stealing pension cheques and fraud by unscrupulous contractors and professional advisers.
Officials in New Brunswick are taking steps to address the problem,which Wong said appears to be growing.
The New Brunswick Securities Commission, in collaboration with the health-care sector, is working to teach nursing home and senior-care professionals about how to recognize and report financial abuse of the elderly.
“As people age, they naturally become more dependent on others, making them more susceptible to undue influence and financial abuse,”said Rick Hancox, executive director of the commission.
“We are putting extra effort into getting this message out to professionals who work with or care for seniors as they are often the first to see the signs of financial abuse and exploitation.” The commission states that financial abuse is any act that involves the misuse or abuse of funds or assets belonging to a senior.
Another initiative in New Brunswick involves specialized training for care providers who work in nursing homes. So far, the training has been provided to at least 12 of 65 long-term care facilities across the province.
The initiative, which is designed to improve workers’ knowledge about elder abuse, is co-ordinated by the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.