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Financial Abuse

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What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse occurs when another person manipulates your decision-making or controls your access to money or other property to gain self-advantage to the detriment of the vulnerable person. 

What are the different forms of financial abuse?

Financial abuse comes in various forms, including, but not limited to, Elder Abuse and Domestic Abuse.

Elder Abuse

The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as: “A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

This crime may not always be committed by a stranger, but by a person or people who are trusted by the older person. As such, instances of elder financial abuse can be difficult to talk about and are often unreported because victims are too frail or ashamed to report the fraud.

There are various signs of Elder Abuse including:

  • Financial activity, which is unusual, erratic or uncharacteristic 
  • Transactions by a caregiver that do not seem to be in the victim's interests (for example, a holiday or a car)
  • A victim is accompanied by a family member or another person who seems to coerce the victim into making transactions 
  • A victim is not allowed to speak for themselves, or the other party does all the talking (particularly in combination with either of the two above situations) 
  • A victim starts to appear fearful (particularly of the person accompanying the victim) or withdrawn 
  • A victim is not aware of recently completed transactions 
  • A victim has suddenly been registered for internet banking when prior financial activity has been branch-based, and there has been no preliminary contact with the financial firm
  • A victim has not been receiving their usual mail, including bank statements
  • Someone has control over the victim's bank accounts without their consent 

Why does elder financial abuse occur?

  • Isolation and dependence on others
    Older people can become isolated and dependent on those they trust: family members, neighbours or carers, which makes them especially vulnerable. Others at high risk include those who have a physical or mental disability or a limited understanding of financial matters, perhaps due to language skills or cultural attitudes. Sadly, anyone who is reliant on others is at risk of financial abuse.
  • Inheritance impatience
    This is the biggest cause of elder financial abuse and refers to family members pre-empting their inheritance to purchase goods using their elderly relative's funds. Instances of this wrongful sense of entitlement are increasing, which has prompted a banking industry push for new legislation. According to the Australian Banking Association, six out of ten Australians have concerns that someone they know will become a victim of elder financial abuse. 

 

Domestic Abuse

Domestic financial abuse may occur when a person uses the money to gain power and control over their partner. This may happen via various methods including:

  • Trying to control the victim's use of or access to money the victim has earned or saved
  • Using the victim's assets for their personal benefit without asking
  • Taking money or using credit cards without permission
  • Demanding that the victim turns over their paycheck, passwords, and credit cards
  • Confiscating the victim's paycheck or other sources of income
  • Intercepting or opening the victim's bank statements and other financial records
  • Forbidding access to bank accounts
  • Providing an inadequate allowance
  • Forcing the victim to sign documents or make false declarations

How can you protect yourself or a loved one?

  • Do not rush into a financial decision
  • Ensure you do not leave mail whether opened or unopened laying around
  • Keep account access codes secure. Do not write down or save your pin number or passwords 
  • Always shred receipts, bank statements, or unused credit card offers before throwing them away
  • Always ask for details in writing and get a second opinion before changing your power of attorney, wills, trusts, or any of your personal financial information
  • Never give your financial or other personal information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted
  • Feel free to say no—even to family members and friends. You have the right not to be abused or threatened. If you think someone close to you is attempting to have access to your finances, call your local assistance services or tell someone at your bank

We are here to help

If you are in danger, please call 000 immediately. It’s common for people to feel embarrassed and overwhelmed when talking about financial abuse. It’s important to learn the signs of financial abuse, where to go for help, and how to support a family member or friend who may be at risk. This can help victims recover and regain their financial independence. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by financial abuse, you can submit a confidential request to our friendly staff who are there to assist, support and guide you as best they can. You can contact our friendly staff by:

For further support, you can contact any of the following hotline services.

Help for families affected by relationship or separation issues Family Relationship Advice Line
1800 050 321
8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday
10am to 4pm, Saturday
Crisis support

Lifeline
13 11 14
24 hours
Crisis Support Chat

Family violence, abuse and sexual assault counselling
1800 737 732
24 hours
Family counselling, mediation and dispute resolution services
1300 364 277
Elder abuse victim support
1800 ELDERHelp 
1800 353 374
Note: this number redirects you to the phone line in your state or territory.
Operating hours and services vary.
State and territory elder abuse victim resource centres
1800 200 422
8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm, Saturday