Financial Elder Abuse: the signs and who to turn to
There is no doubt the current lockdown has increased financial stress on individuals, families and businesses. The uncertainty about how to make ends meet is fast becoming a common narrative in Australia.
Surprisingly, Australia has no mandatory reporting requirements in any State or Territory throughout Australia which occurs in the community setting. Only residential aged care homes are required to report on elder abuse, but it is limited to physical and sexual assaults only, not financial abuse.
What is Elder Financial Abuse?
In practical terms, elder financial abuse occurs in where family members or trusted friends, or strangers, cheat an older person out of their assets, that is (but not limited to):
Stealing money directly or using credit cards or bank cards without their knowledge or permission.
Forcing changes to a will or other legal documents - using falsehoods or deception to get them to sign something against their interests
Denying access to personal funds
Forging signatures on documents
Not consulting with the person and other decision-makers
Neglecting financial obligations
Generally taking advantage of them (such as moving into their property and not paying rent)
As cases of elder abuse generally occur in the privacy of ones own home. Identifying, seeking help and prosecuting the perpretrator/s can sometimes be challenging.
The fact is, there is also no standard approach to tackling elder financial abuse as each situation brings with it a web of complexities and particularities. But, this does not mean you are powerless to do something about it.
This is what you can do to help
When faced with a potential case of financial elder abuse, here are five steps anyone can follow.
1: Check if the person is safe. It is important to ensure the victim is in a supportive and secure environment. If this is not the case, consider respite care (in a residential aged care home, or respite home) or moving to a family member home. Seek advice from your state or territories elder abuse support group or police if you feel the person is unsafe.
2: Go with your gut feel. Financial elder abuse can be difficult to prove. Therefore, if you feel there is a case of financial abuse, remain curious and look out for signs. Less obvious signs a person may be a victim of elder financial abuse, despite having funds include:
Receiving late notice reminders for bills or eviction notices (e.g: outstanding aged care fees)
Appearing intimidated or cautious around the person who manages their money, such as their power of attorney.
Reduced or stopping spending on services they have valued in the past, such as their personal care, household upkeep or social outings.
Spending money on items they are unlikely going to use (e.g a new car when they do not have a licence)
Uncharacteristic banking patterns, such as withdrawals from areas or shops they do not visit.
3: Find other members of the family or representatives:
Perpetrators often do their best to isolate the person from their family and friends. Finding other members of the family or supportive friends can often help fill in knowledge gaps and confirm your suspicion. If appropriate, speak to the neighbour, siblings, ePOA or close family friends.
4: Establish a support team: Representation from the experts in their field, could assist you in establishing the facts. For example,