Protecting what’s yours

Seniors’ organizations and financial institutions in B.C. have joined forces to protect elderly citizens against financial abuse. One initiative has the B.C. Coalition to Eliminate Abuse of Seniors (BCCEAS) working with banks, credit unions and trust companies to make seniors more aware of financial abuse, teaching them how to recognize and then deal with it.

“Over the last five years, the number of telephone calls our organization received from seniors concerning financial abuse increased almost 50 per cent,” says Carol War-Hall, executive director of BCCEAS. “As a result, we formed a Task Force made up of members from BCCEAS, banks and credit unions and looked into what was happening in Victoria, the Okanagan and Fraser Valley, because those three places have a large concentration of older people.”

A brochure called Money Matters for Seniors, detailing specific actions that could be taken to avoid exploitation, was published, followed by a training manual and a facilitators’ guide for training front line workers and managers from financial institutions how to spot financial abuse – and prevent it. A video was also produced to compliment the manual.

The second project,he ABCs of Fraud, is based on a program introduced by the Volunteer Centre of Metro Toronto. Funded by Scotiabank, the program proved so successful it was expanded to – Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax.

“Financial abuse of seniors can occur in any culture, and there’s a distinction between fraud – that’s clearly illegal – and a scam that technically does not break the law,” says Charmian Spencer, a lawyer and researcher from Simon Fraser University’s Gerontology Research Centre. “The 411 Seniors Centre has 20 volunteers who counsel other seniors and have found all types of abuse and neglect,” says Angela Brooks, client service coordinator with the downtown Vancouver Centre. “We conducted a needs assessment study and found that newcomers to Canada, for example, faced many barriers such as language, and because many seniors lived in isolation they were not aware of the services and benefits they were entitled to receive.

This often led to victimization,” Brooks says. As a result, 15 volunteers have been trained to give presentations to groups at various locations, such as neighbourhood houses and seniors” centres. “We hope to train another group of volunteers in the fall, and include more people from different ethnic groups we want to help – we already have two Chinese volunteers,” says Hall.