Elder financial abuse is a distressing and common form of mistreatment affecting older people, often carried out by those in positions of trust such as family members and carers. This form of abuse can have devastating effects on the victim's financial security, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. While it can be a difficult issue to talk about it’s important to be aware of what it entails, who it affects and how to recognise and prevent it.
What is elder financial abuse?
Elder financial abuse refers to the exploitation or manipulation of an older person's finances or assets for personal gain, often without their knowledge or consent. This can take various forms, including theft, fraud, forgery, coercion, or deceptive practices.
Who does it affect?
Every one of us may be vulnerable at one time or another and can be victims of financial abuse, however elder financial abuse largely affects those over the age of 60. Financial abuse can occur regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status, although several factors can increase vulnerability such as cognitive impairment, physical or mental disabilities, isolation and dependence on others for care. Some people may become even more of a target if they are known to have substantial savings or assets.
Spotting the Signs
- Unusual banking activity
Sudden and large withdrawals, or unexplained transfers may be your first red flag, especially when there is a noticeable change in their banking habits.
- Changes to important documents
Alterations to a will, trusts, or power of attorney documents.
- Theft of valuables
Missing personal belongings without explanation, particularly items of high value such as jewellery and even bank cards.
- Unfamiliar names on accounts
Finding names or beneficiaries on bank accounts or insurance policies that are unfamiliar, unexpected or signatures that look to be forged.
- Seclusion from their support network
Changes in social behaviour such as being cut off from family and friends.
- Unwillingness to talk and emotional stress
Reluctance or fear to discuss recent financial activity, or changes in their mood including depression, anxiety and stress.
- Unpaid bills or lack of funds
Bills overdue or unpaid, or a general lack in personal care including limited money for basic needs.
Elder abuse cannot always be prevented; however steps can be taken to lessen the risk of abuse.
Whether your loved one lives at home, with a family member or in a care facility, simple actions such as encouraging social contact with others and checking in on them regularly can go a long way in keeping them safe.
Other preventative steps you can take are:
- Chatting openly about finances and asking them to share any doubts about their financial situation.
- Keep an eye on bank statements, bills, and financial documents, looking out for any irregularities.
- Legal documents, like wills and trusts, that have been drafted professionally can provide a level of protection against manipulation or tampering.
- Educate elders about financial abuse. Help them to recognise the signs of when someone may be trying to take advantage including being aware of common scams.
- Choose a trusted power of attorney. If an elder requires assistance with financial matters, the power of attorney can make decisions regarding financial matters on their behalf. For this reason it is extremely important to ensure the person is capable and trustworthy.
We’re here to help
Our team members, especially those who work in our branches, are often in a position to identify the first signs of someone being financially abused and will take the appropriate steps to escalate or flag a situation they believe a customer may be vulnerable.
We are constantly reviewing our training, support and business practices for staff members to ensure they, to their best ability, can identify persons experiencing vulnerability, including elder financial abuse, based on their assessment of a situation. We will always act with sensitivity, respect and compassion.
What to do if you suspect an elder is being financially abused
If you suspect that a parent, grandparent or loved one is being financially exploited, it’s important to take action. Free and confidential help is available and resources can be found on our website.
If you need legal help or advice, information can be found here at moneysmart.gov.au
If you're in crisis or struggling to make ends meet, find out how to get urgent assistance here at moneysmart.gov.au
Auswide Bank Ltd AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 239686. This information provides general advice only. We do not provide advice based on any consideration of your personal objectives, needs or circumstances.