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Financial Literacy for Seniors

November 28, 2012

What do seniors need to know to be financially literate? This is an excellent question, not just for the financial literacy month of November, but one that the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support and the Canadian Centre on Elder Law tried to answer in their detailed publication entitled Financial Literacy 101.

They break down the subject into a number of categories that include ageism, substitute decision makers, power of attorney, joint bank accounts, frauds and scams, identity theft and elder abuse. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in this topic to obtain a copy of this report.

The area of financial abuse troubles me greatly. A friend of mind shared a story that he saw a few years ago posted on the BC Association of Community Response Team’s website:

“I’m 91. Once I was an educator, and had a decent life. What I am today? An abused senior. Oh, please don’t tell anyone. If my kids find out I’ve been talking, there’ll be hell to pay. I don’t want them to get into trouble. Everyday it gets worse—last month I had $300,000 in savings. Now there’s only $5000 left. It’s so hard to say NO to them. They yell and use the F word. I don’t know where they learned to talk like that. I’m so ashamed.”

Dependency upon others and fear drive much of the abuse which tends to happen from family members or others in positions of trust.

Seniors are vulnerable to identity theft as they often have an excellent credit rating and do not monitor bank or credit card statements.

Older women are frequently targeted by fraudulent telemarketers and other scam artists because they are perceived to be more polite and trusting of strangers. Fraud can occur in any number of ways. Marketers call on the phone offering services or products or offers and applications can arrive in the mail. These days, internet savvy elders are being scammed.

Telemarketing and mail fraud, for example, are a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. Telephone con artists are hardened criminals who tend to be very skilled, sound believable and prey on you when you’re feeling lonely. It’s sometimes difficult to know whether a sales call is legitimate. The most common scams are sweepstakes or prize offers, travel packages, vitamins, magazine subscriptions, investments, charities, and fraud recovery scams.

How to Protect Youself

  1. If you feel pressured or uncomfortable – hang up the phone.
  2. Never send money or give your credit card, account number or social security number to an unfamiliar party. Wait till you have received written material about any offer or charity.
  3. Lock your Mailbox.
  4. Have any contracts reviewed by a trusted professional on your side before signing anything.
  5. Take your time making any financial decision.
  6. When out, leave your purse, wallet, credit cards, and identification home whenever possible. Carry little cash.
  7. Don’t leave your purse in a shopping cart unattended for even a moment – including while you are loading packages
  8. Arrange for government and pension checks to be directly deposited to your bank.
  9. Examine your credit card bills and account balances to look for unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
  10. Use a shredder to dispose of documents containing private information and pre-approved credit card offers.
  11. Be stingy with information if someone calls or sends you an unsolicited e-mail.
  12. Avoid strange ATM’s.
  13. Add password protections to your bank and brokerage accounts.
  14. Monitor your credit report.

Examples of Financial Abuse.

  • Stealing money or personal possessions
  • Forcing or tricking a senior to sign pension checks or legal documents
  • Misusing a Power of Attorney
  • Pressuring a senior to provide services for no payment
  • Forcing or tricking a senior into selling his or her property.
  • Sudden removal of large sums of money from a bank account
  • Inability to pay bills, buy food or personal care items.
  • Fear or anxiety when discussing finances
  • Visits by a family member only when check arrives
  • Inaccurate or lack of knowledge of personal finances
  • Unexpected revision of a will, or sudden sale of property

The Better Business Bureau of the Lower Mainland has excellent information that includes an article on How to Spend Wisely during Golden Years at

The BBB’s list of the top 10 scams for 2011 are:

  1. Email Pitch – for anyone looking for work. Result – Scammer gets info for identity theft.
  2. On Line Pitch – Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to send you a million dollars. Result – clicking lets the scammer see your personal information and friends.
  3. Email Pitch for anyone wanting to see a video on Osama Bin Laden’s death. Upgrade your Flash player. Result – you download a virus that finds your passwords.
  4. Home Improvement Scams – Got a great deal. Result – shoddy work.
  5. Cheque cashing scams – Sorry, I wrote a cheque for too much. Can you wire me the difference? Result – their cheque bounces and your wired money is gone forever.
  6. Phishing scam – Automated clearing house. – Electronic transaction problem. Result – takes you to a fake bank website and steals your banking information.
  7. Phone Call Pitch – scams hotel guests in the middle of the night about a problem with your credit card. Result – someone other than the hotel clerk gets your credit card number.
  8. Financial Pitch – We can help you with your mortgage company. Result – you pay them. They do nothing.
  9. On Line Pitch – Win an Ipad, camera etc. Result – you pay for every bid but don’t get the merchandise.
  10. Email from the BBB that claims there has been a complaint. Clicking on link or attachment results in the downloading of malware that finds your bank info and transfers money.


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