Elder financial abuse: how to spot the signs
Technology has many benefits, but did you know that preventing elder financial abuse counts as one of them? Research shows that embracing technology goes a long way towards maintaining your independence, a key risk factor of elder abuse.
Our goal at Be Connected is to empower older Australians to build their online skills, so we thought it was only fitting to help raise awareness of an important but complex topic like elder abuse.
Elder abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, ethnicity, or income. It’s important to recognise the signs and know that help is available. The more we know about it, the easier it can be to spot, whether it be for yourself or someone you know.
In this article:
- What is elder abuse?
- What elder financial abuse looks like
- Who is at greater risk of abuse?
- What we know about the perpetrators
- How to spot the signs
- How you can prevent elder abuse
- Where to go for help
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is a single or repeated action – or lack of action – that causes harm or distress to an older person caused by someone they know and trust. Elder abuse can take on many forms including financial, physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse.
In this article, we will focus on financial abuse, a common form of elder abuse that involves the theft or misuse of an older person’s money, assets, or property.
What elder financial abuse looks like
According to a recent National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, the most common forms of financial abuse reported by older Australians, are:
- being pressured into giving or loaning money, possessions, or property
- taking things without permission, including money, jewellery, or other goods
- moving into the home of an older person and failing to contribute to household costs like rent or food.
There are many other examples of financial abuse, including:
- using someone’s bank accounts or credit cards without their permission
- using someone’s money for another person’s use, knowing they won’t complain because they rely on that person for care
- denying someone access to their money
- forging someone’s signature
- pressuring an older person into signing financial documents or misleading them about the content of the document they’re signing
- abusing powers of attorney.
Who is at greater risk of abuse?
Elder abuse is complex. Victims are reluctant to report it when it involves somebody they know, so it can be difficult to gain a complete view of the risk factors in place. What we do know, however, is that there are some factors that can increase the likelihood of abuse.
It doesn’t mean that you will experience abuse if you identify with any of the factors mentioned, however, it does help to be aware of the signs so you can spot them.
Evidence shows older people who are socially isolated from family and friends, and people with poor quality relationships are more at risk of elder abuse.
There are a number of other factors that can increase the risk of abuse in older people, including:
- being dependent on others
- living arrangements and family conflict (e.g. living with an adult child and their family)
- poor physical health or limited movement
- lack of interest or knowledge in financial affairs
- mental health issues or reduced capacity
- substance abuse or gambling problem of the older person.
What we know about the perpetrators
Research shows adult children are most likely to commit elder financial abuse, with sons twice as likely as daughters to be the perpetrators. In the majority of cases, the adult child lives with the older person.
Perpetrators are also known to include other family members like spouses of adult children. And a large number of perpetrators are found to have a gambling or substance abuse problem.
How to spot the signs
Elder financial abuse can be hard to recognise, especially as victims are reluctant to discuss it with others. There are however some common warning signs you can look out for, including:
- feeling anxious, stressed, or scared
- an unexplained disappearance of belongings
- significant bank withdrawals
- changes to Wills
- access to bank accounts or statements is blocked
- a disparity between living conditions and money
- no money to pay for home essentials like food, clothing, utilities and other bills, or an accumulation of bills.
How you can prevent elder abuse
As a society, there are things we can do to help prevent elder abuse, like recognise the signs and check in on older people who may not have many friends or family around. There are also things you can do for yourself to reduce the risk of becoming a victim. They include:
- Stay active in your community and connected with your friends and family so that you don’t become socially isolated.
- Take care of your health and stay physically active, even if it’s just short walks or gardening. Older people in poor health can be more vulnerable as they depend on others for care.
- Increase your online confidence so you can use technology to manage your finances, find support services, avoid scams, and stay connected to your community.
- Take control of your finances by setting up direct debits and pre-authorised bill payments. Consider who you give authorisations over your accounts.
- Seek independent advice before making decisions that will have an impact on your finances or living arrangements. Speak to a friend or reach out to one of the many services online.
Where to go for help
Most victims know their abuser so it can be difficult for them to seek help as they may feel ashamed or blame themselves. If they’re dependent on the person taking advantage of them, they may also fear losing the relationship or accommodation.
It is important to reach out and speak to somebody you know and trust, and it can start with just a phone call. If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, take the first step and call the free national elder helpline on 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) (Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm).
You can also visit the Compass website, for a comprehensive list of service providers in your state or territory who can help with a range of matters like financial or legal advice, or simply getting your story heard.
Compass is a knowledge hub on all types of elder abuse.
Australian banking association’s Safe and savvy guide to help older Australians avoid scams, abuse, and fraud
Care for your assets: money, ageing and family. A guide from Seniors Rights Victoria on things to consider before changing your living arrangement or lending money to others.
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