How to protect yourself from financial abuse

Monday, June 15, marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the first day of a week-long awareness campaign. Here are some tips from Simon Templeton of Age Concern Canterbury on avoiding financial abuse.

One in 10 people aged 65+ will experience some form of elder abuse. The abuse occurs in many ways – psychological, financial, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect. Over 2200 cases of elder abuse are reported each year, with many more going unreported and unnoticed. Of all cases reported to Age Concern Elder Abuse and Neglect Services, 54 percent involve financial abuse. Most cases involve more than one type of abuse, and 76 percent of abusers are family members.

Financial abuse is illegal or improper use of property, money or other assets, and can be devastating to an older person and their wellbeing. Examples include:

  • Staying or living in an older person’s home and using facilities without contributing to costs.
  • Failure to repay loans.
  • Misuse of power of attorney.
  • Persuading or threatening an older person into signing over money, property or assets.
  • Stealing or helping yourself to finances such as the older person’s EFTPOS card or cash.
  • Scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their assets or savings (such as online romance scams).

Signs of an older person being financially abused:

  • Not having enough money for essentials such as food or medical care.
  • Their savings and/or possessions are disappearing.
  • Unusual withdrawals or transactions from their bank account/s.
  • Avoiding social activities or hobbies they usually enjoy because they can no longer afford them.
  • Their house has been sold but they are unsure why.
  • Signatures on documents do not match their real signature.

Here are some tips to protect yourself from being financially abused:

  • Never tell anyone your PIN number or give them your EFTPOS.
  • If you need support to get necessities, you can transfer payment at the bank or online/over the phone, or give cash in the exact amount if possible.
  • Never share your credit card or bank details on the phone.
  • Seek independent advice before signing contracts, being a guarantor for a loan or making any big decisions.
  • Set up Enduring Power of Attorney for property – this provides some protection and means if for some reason you are unable to make decisions or want someone to help with this, a trusted person can make decisions for you about your money, house, belongings and land.
  • Make sure your Will is up to date and respects your wishes, and those you trust know about it.

Many people we see in our work feel embarrassed if they have been financially abused or scammed out of money and assets, but it is something that can happen to anyone and there is help out there; you do not have to deal with what is happening alone. People report feeling scared and unable to make changes to their situation, and although in a lot of cases money taken cannot be recovered unless there is clear evidence, there is a lot that can be done to prevent further financial abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of elder abuse, you can speak to your local Age Concern for advice and support. There is also a 24/7 Elder Abuse helpline on 0800 EA NOT OK (32 668 65).  If there is immediate risk to the safety and wellbeing of anyone involved, ring 111 and ask for the police.


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