Viewpoint—Suffering in Silence cont’d

B.C’s changing demographics:

British Columbia has the healthiest population of all provinces and territories in Canada.
It also has the highest life expectancy, behind only two of Canada’s international peers – Switzerland and Japan. British Columbians’ long lifespans are reflected in figures from Statistics Canada, which show that between 2013 and 2016, the number of people over 65 in B.C. increased to 850,424 from 752,128 – a 13% rise in just three years. The number of seniors in the province is increasing not just in real terms, but as a percentage of the population as well- to 17.9% in 2016 from 16.4% in 2013.

B.C.’s aging population presents a wide range of new considerations for public policy, including how to achieve the best possible outcomes in health care, security, safety, and lifetime learning. The demographic shift we’re already witnessing will require careful planning at all levels of government and across society more generally.

One major issue is how a growing population of seniors can effectively and safely manage their finances and protect themselves from fraud and financial abuse.

As people age, faculties can start to diminish, and the ability to focus sharply changes with time and health. A recent study by the Centre for Retirement Research at Boston College found that “declining cognition, a common occurrence among individuals in their 80s, is associated with a significant decline in financial literacy.” The study also found that “large declines in cognition and financial literacy have little effect on an elderly individual’s confidence in their financial knowledge, and essentially no effect on their confidence in managing their finances,” While it’s only natural for people to exaggerate their strengths and downplay their weaknesses, there may be negative consequences to this when it comes to cognition and financial literacy.

Along with the possibility of cognitive decline, it’s also more likely for seniors than younger people to face some form of reduction in mobility, which may prevent them from accessing in-person financial services on their own.

These factors- an aging population, an increased likelihood of reduced physical ability, evidence of a decline in financial literacy in later life and no loss of confidence among seniors in being able to manage their finances- significantly increase the risk of financial abuse.


Viewpoint—Suffering in Silence

This article addresses the financial abuse of seniors in British Columbia.


A Vancity survey, conducted by the Mustel Group of people aged 65 or older in Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District reveals that:

  1. More than one-third (35 %) of seniors who experience at least one type of financial abuse choose not to tell anyone.
  2. One-fifth (21 %) of seniors who experienced financial abuse and did not report it said it was because they didn’t know who to tell.

Of those respondents who say they did not report incidences of abuse 15 % were embarrassed by the situation, and 10% feared it would make the situation worse or result in retaliation.

More than 80% of survey respondents could not name any support services available for seniors who may be victims of financial abuse.

There is a large gap between unprompted reports of financial abuse (3%) and reported abuse when respondents are presented with specific scenarios (36%), indicating that many seniors may not understand how they may be victims. A Canadian national study revealed that in situations of financial abuse the perpetrator was an adult child or graduated in 37% on incidents.

Multiple studies indicate that seniors are often afraid to report abuse, particularly if they are living with their abuser and/or are dependent on them for help with financial or other day-to-day matters.

Senior First BC indicates there were 4,684 incidences of financial abuse reported to the Seniors Abuse and Information Line from 2013 to 2017. The top ten forms of financial abuse were:

Exploiting affected adult (for shelter or money)

  • Pressuring (to lend, give a gift, or change will)
  • Misuse of the power of attorney
  • Real estate
  • Questionable business transaction
  • Misuse of bank or credit card
  • Misuse of a joint bank account
  • Theft
  • Cashing pension or other cheques without authorization
  • Skimming

Recommendations in the Vancity report include helping seniors manage their finances securely, financial institutions providing support specifically designed for senior members/customers and governments providing more funding for seniors organizations that combat abuse.


Note: excerpts re-published with the permission of Vancity. Vancity is a values-based financial co-operative serving the needs of its more than 523,000 member-owners and their communities in the Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw territories, with 59 branches in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Victoria, Squamish and Alert Bay.