The five flags “watch list”: Protecting our most vulnerable

March 08, 2024 | RBC Wealth Management


The five flags “watch list”: Protecting our most vulnerable

Exploiting and harming those most vulnerable in our society is on the rise. Here are five signs of elder abuse to be on the watch for. 

While many Canadians look forward to enjoying the later years of their lives - either in full retirement or for some even still actively engaged in work - the truth is that there are very real and challenging issues that a cohort of our society must face. Whether declining health, increasing isolation, worries over one’s finances, and caring for ailing loved ones, there are many obstacles to achieving what is so often characterized as our “golden years”. 

Elder abuse: The very real but often unflagged crime 

One thing that most Canadians would not anticipate having to deal with in their golden years is abuse. This includes physical and emotional abuse, intimidation, abandonment, and neglect. It also involves theft of their property and wealth. The worst part? In far too many cases, that abuse comes from their own family and “loved ones”, or from those that are charged with their care and comfort.

According to the Government of Canada, elder abuse effects as much as 10% of older Canadians, but only one in five incidents of abuse is brought to the attention of those who can help.Part of this can likely be explained by the fact that one-third of reported elderly abuse cases were perpetrated by family members.The greatest vulnerability of the elderly for abuse and exploitation still comes from financial crimes by strangers (i.e., cybercrimes and scams), followed by relatives and caregivers, and abuse in institutional settings.3

Elder care “watch list”: five signs of elder abuse

To help guard our most vulnerable members of society, here are some ways we can stay vigilant:

1. Missing valuables: While it is one of the easiest signs to brush off as just an elderly person getting forgetful, missing valuables is often one of the most obvious signs that someone is a victim of abuse and a crime. If an elderly person mentions that an item is missing, it’s worth investigating it. 

2. Unusual banking activity: While unusual or out-of-the-norm activity may be easily explained, chances are that a sudden change in banking patterns means trouble. From a sudden increase in withdrawals, payments made to third-party billers, or the payment of a balance on someone else’s credit card, this is often where abuse and theft show up most clearly. 

3. Sudden new companion: Close questioning of how a new friend or romantic interest came into the potential victim’s life, what role they are playing in it, and what they are asking of that potential target is a good start to uncovering motivations and potential abuse.

4. Unexplained property transfers: Another major flag is the transfer of property to another person, especially when that transfer clearly works against the best interests of the transferor. Another sign is where a third-party – even a related one – adds themselves as a joint party to an asset or account – again, while there may be a legitimate reason, it’s worth investigating.

5. Unexplained changes to a Will or a power of attorney: Financial power of attorney (POA) allows a designated person to act on behalf of a POA grantor in legal and financial affairs. It's a very powerful designation, and any changes to it, particularly when the transfer is not to a family member or a long-standing friend, could be a sign someone may be trying to take advantage.

Guarding our aging Canadians

Whether a family member, friend, caregiver, or neighbour, we can all work to help protect our elderly and vulnerable Canadians from exploitation. Just being mindful of the above signs can make a huge difference and can help avoid elder exploitation – even before it begins. 

To learn more about how to protect your loved ones, reach out to us today.    


1Elder abuse, Government of Canada (2012).
2Police-reported family violence against seniors in Canada, Government of Canada (2019).
3Crime and Abuse Against Seniors: A Review of the Research Literature With Special Reference to the Canadian Situation, Government of Canada (2021).

Article was originally posted in Portfolio Advisor

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