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FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS

Protecting those you love from elder financial abuse

30 October 2019

Though elder abuse is a common problem, it can be difficult to identify. When the abuse is of a financial nature, it will likely have a lasting effect on the lives of your most vulnerable loved ones.

Understanding elder financial abuse

What is elder financial abuse?

Elder financial abuse is the illegal or improper exploitation of money or assets of an older person. Australia’s older generation (those aged 65 and over) continues to grow and is projected to more than double by 2057. The abuse of this demographic, which may or may not be intentional, often results in the victim losing control or awareness of their financial situation.

Some of the most common example of financial abuse include:

  • theft of personal property
  • misuse of an ATM or credit card
  • misappropriation or misuse of money, assets or property
  • forcing or forging of a signature, or
  • exerting influence to change a will, change a power of attorney, invest in something, or give away money or property.

Who commits elder financial abuse?

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse often involves family members, including spouses, children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Many financial abusers feel they are entitled to funds they see as already theirs – they may not even recognise that what they are doing is wrong or criminal. Sometimes referred to as ‘inheritance impatience’, this sense of entitlement isn’t unusual, particularly among family members. Common perpetrators can also include other close influences, such as carers, neighbours or friends. Strangers, businesses or institutions are also capable of committing financial abuse.

No matter the circumstances, elder abuse is never acceptable. There are some things you can do to help protect yourself or those close to you from becoming a victim. Since elder abuse is usually identitfed or reported by someone who isn’t the victim, it’s important to know the warning signs and act when you feel something’s not quite right.

Know the warning signs

Accounts accessed without consent

If another person is accessing or controlling a bank account, credit card or chequebook without consent, it may be a sign they’re being used fraudulently. Instances of others forging signatures on cheques, bank accounts or legal documents can also be warning signs of unauthorised access attempts.

Guilt or pressure to make changes  

A common warning sign of potential financial abuse comes in the form of guilt or pressure to change a Will, power of attorney or to add someone as a signatory to a bank account. If someone is applying pressure for these changes, they may be doing so for inappropriate or self-serving reasons. Wills and enduring power of attorney are powerful legal documents and positions – they should only be changed or granted to those who demonstrate they can be trusted with the responsibility.

Mail is going missing 

If you or your loved one are no longer receiving the right mail (including account statements), it may be a sign of attempted identify theft. Sometimes, a letter or two will go astray in the post. But, if mail is regularly going missing without explanation, it could be because someone else is interfering with important statements or documents.

Money isn't where it should be

We can all lose track of our spending. However, if money isn’t where it should be on a regular basis, then it’s worth investigating where the money is actually going. If you or your loved one have entrusted someone to pay the bills and they aren’t being paid, the funds might have been used for a different, unintended purpose. Similarly, if large or unexplained withdrawals or transfers have been made from an account without permission, it could be a sign of financial abuse.

Feelings of isolation

Feelings of isolation are common during instances of elder financial abuse. If you or someone you love are feeling isolated or threatened by someone else, it may be a clear indication that the offending person means to do harm. This is especially true if there’s pressure to hand over money or assets.

At the other end of the scale, new friends or acquiantances accompanying your loved one to do their banking may need to be treated with caution. If large sums of money are being withdrawn at the direction of this new friend, it may be a sign your loved one is being taken advantage of. While new acquaintances can help ease feelings of isolation and loneliness, the relationship needs to be genuine and based on respect.

How to prevent elder financial abuse

The older people in our lives may be more vulnerable to financial abuse. This is because they often depend on family members or other people around them for additional care and support.  Knowing how to prevent elder abuse can be difficult, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself and those you care about. 

Start a conversation

Perhaps one of the biggest risk factors to overcome when it comes to elder financial abuse is isolation. Starting a conversation with those you trust to look after you or your loved ones may be key to combatting a number of potential threats.

If you feel isolated or pressured, talking to those who are slightly removed may help to build and expand your support group and alert others to your situation.

Helping your elderly loved ones to remain safe from financial opportunists can be difficult. Your loved one may be wary of divulging all their financial details – it’s important to remember to respect their agency and independence. It could help to enlist one of their friends to ease the situation and direct the focus on your loved one’s wellbeing and community support. Try to have these important conversations with your loved one in a private setting away from those who may be trying to exert undue influence over them.

No matter the situation, it’s important to reach out, stay in touch and ask questions.

Learn to recognise scams and hoaxes

There’s a lot of different scams and hoaxes out there. Learning how to recognise common scams can help you stay one step ahead of the perpetrators. Scamwatch is a great resource that provides information on how to recognise, avoid and report scams.

Set up checks and balances

Well-maintained checks and balances can help protect potentially vulnerable assets and finances. Checks might involve ensuring your loved one has all their essential legal documents up to date and in a safe place. Or, it could involve granting more than one person power of attorney. With more than one individual looking out for your loved one’s needs, more consultation and transparency is required. This ensures stronger safeguards are in place because more than one person has access to pivotal information.

Find legal representation

If you need legal support, most Australian states have Legal Aid services that can generally be accessed free of charge:

Additional support

We’re here to help protect our customers from financial difficulty and abuse. If your loved one is a Suncorp customer, you can report your concerns of financial abuse directly to our Customer Assist team on 1800 225 223 (8:30am-5pm, Mon-Fri, AEST).

There are also organisations to support you if think you, or someone you know, is experiencing elder financial abuse.

We’re here to help protect our customers from financial difficulty and abuse. If your loved one is a Suncorp customer, you can report your concerns of financial abuse directly to our Customer Assist team on 1800 225 223 (8:30am-5pm, Mon-Fri, AEST).

There are also organisations to support you if think you, or someone you know, is experiencing elder financial abuse.

Protection from elder financial abuse

Sadly, cases of elder financial abuse are incredibly common. If you or someone you love is at risk, they could also be vulnerable to financial difficulty. If you are feeling financially vulnerable, Suncorp can help. Call us today on 1800 225 223 from 8:00am-5:00pm AEST Monday to Friday or email us on customer.assist@suncorp.com.au.

Reduce Financial Vulnerability Risks


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Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, financial situation or needs. You should make your own enquiries, consider whether advice is appropriate for you and read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or Product Information Document before making any decisions about whether to acquire a product

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