It’s hard to believe that family members, so called loved ones, can inflict financial abuse on people closest to them. Financial abuse of older family members is the most common form of abuse of older people and is estimated to affect around one in ten people aged over 65.
Alarmingly, ninety percent of financial abuse against older people is perpetrated by a family member. Financial abuse is broadly defined as: using someone’s property, finance or other assets illegally or wrongly.
Tracey West, lecturer in the Business School at Griffith University, says the problem is largely unreported. It is estimated only thirty percent of victims report financial abuse.
Tracey explains financial abuse covers a family member taking money for themselves while ‘helping’ with weekly shopping through to fraudulently using money for personal home renovations, misuse of power of attorney, using credit cards, stealing jewellery and many other crimes.
Some older people are vulnerable due to cognitive impairment, difficulties with technology and lack of experience in managing financial affairs. She says warning signs to look out for are: a change in demeanour in the person, fearfulness around certain family members; lack of funds; unusual items in bank statements; forged signatures; unexpected will changes; a family member accompanying a parent or grandparent to make bank transactions and threatening behaviour by an adult child or grandchild.
However, there are steps to take; review power of attorney arrangements and keep them up to date; ensure you track bank statements or seek the assistance of a trusted person; never sign documents you don’t understand; seek a second opinion from a trusted person; seek independent financial and legal advice.
If you think you are at risk, or you are a victim of financial abuse, seek help from a community legal centre or call 1800 737 732, a national abuse counselling phone help line.