Understanding and protecting against elder financial abuse

Unlike other types of fraudulent and scam activity, financial abuse of older people is often carried out by family members or caregivers – those who have a close relationship with the victim.

Common methods of abuse include:

  • forging the person’s signature.

  • coercing the person into making changes to bank accounts or important documents, such as deeds or their will

  • using their credit or debit cards without their knowledge or permission.

  • stealing cash or valuable items from their home.

  • taking advantage of the person’s situation in general

It can be difficult to identify financial abuse, especially if the victim has been manipulated or deceived. Often victims don’t fully understand what is happening because they lack the ability to look after themselves due to conditions like dementia.

The following are some common indicators that elder financial abuse could be taking place:

  • unexplained financial activity

  • unusual bank account activity is often the first sign of financial abuse. Large withdrawals, sudden changes in spending patterns, or the addition of new signatories on accounts are all signs that shouldn’t be ignored

  • missing property or funds

If valuables, cash, bank cards or even important documents go missing it can be an indication that someone is exploiting the person’s trust. To start with, it may be small items or amounts that go missing, which then gradually get larger or more significant.

Changes to legal documents

Sudden changes to wills, power of attorney, or other legal documents can be a sign something isn’t right - especially if the changes benefit a new or unexpected beneficiary. National Seniors Australia has seen “inheritance impatience” grow as people live longer.

Unpaid bills

If utility bills go unpaid, rent is overdue or the person is lacking essentials – such as groceries – despite having the funds to pay for them, it could be a sign that their money is being misused.

Isolation from friends and family

Abusers often isolate their victims to prevent the exploitation being discovered. Reduced social interaction and communication can both be red flags, as can an overly involved caregiver.

Emotional changes

Financial abuse can understandably lead to emotional distress and confusion. Signs of anxiety, depression, or fear around certain individuals should be taken seriously and investigated.

Identifying and getting help for this type of financial abuse can be difficult. Many older victims don’t recognise what is happening, and if they do, they’re often too scared or embarrassed to take action.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help prevent elder financial abuse happening to someone in your life – or even to yourself in your later years:

Regularly check and review bank statements and credit reports for anything unusual. Ensure that important documents and personal information are all stored securely. Digital backups can be beneficial.

Establishing legal safeguards such as power of attorney early can help. The senior person can choose someone trustworthy to help in managing their financial affairs before they are unable to do so for any reason.

Open conversations about finances are important and can help identify issues early on. Speaking with trusted family members, friends or financial advisors can also ensure a lack of confusion around any wishes or specific requests.

Be scam aware, always. Educate older individuals about common scams, such as phishing emails, fraudulent phone calls and fake charities but also help them understand the signs of financial abuse to look out for.

Older Australians are at risk of several different types of abuse, including physical, social and psychological.

Financial abuse is a serious issue that requires vigilance, education, and proactive measures. By recognising the signs and implementing protective strategies, we can help safeguard the financial wellbeing of seniors and ensure they live their golden years with the dignity and security they deserve.