Signs of abuse

Common examples of financial abuse of an older person:

  • Appropriating the proceeds of the sale of an older person’s home with the promise of providing future accommodation or care and then not providing it
  • Threats or undue pressure on an older person to sell their house or hand over assets
  • Threatening, coercing or forcing an older person into signing paperwork concerning property, wills or powers of attorney
  • Misusing or neglecting powers of attorney to manage an older person’s finances
  • Using an older person’s bank accounts, credit cards or financial documents without authorisation
  • Managing the finances of a competent older person without their permission
  • Pressuring an older person for a gift or a loan or for earlier inheritance
  • Incurring bills for which an older person is responsible (DHS 2009, pp. 12–13)

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Promises of ‘good care’ in exchange for transferring property or money from bank accounts to the carer
  • Fear, stress and anxiety expressed by an older person
  • Unfamiliar or new signatures on cheques and documents
  • The older person cannot access their bank accounts or statements
  • Significant withdrawals from accounts
  • Transfer of assets where the person may no longer be competent to manage their own financial affairs
  • Accounts suddenly switched to another financial institution or branch
  • Drastic changes in the types of banking activities, or to a will (DHS 2009, p. 13)

It is not always easy to recognise financial abuse but there are a number of accepted warning signs or ‘red flags’.

The following are reasons to be alert to possible abuse:

  1. vulnerability of an older person due to lack of capacity or to conditions such as physical frailty, dependence, social isolation;
  2. a trusting relationship with the likely perpetrator;
  3. isolation and control of the older person and/or transaction;
  4. evidence of undue influence – for example, coercive behaviour by a family member at appointments, or the older person being unable to speak for themselves or appearing confused, withdrawn or fearful;
  5. lack of concern for the welfare of the older person – for example, the older person appears unclean or unkempt;
  6. no money being available for an aged care bond when there should be sufficient funds;
  7. suspicious or dubious transactions or banking activity – for example, drastic changes to wills, or a recent addition of a signature to an account, or a move from in-person banking to ATM withdrawals;
  8. secretiveness of the older person;
  9. assets change hands during a period of vulnerability – evidenced, for example, by the transfer of a title or by a new found prosperity in the person in control;
  10. a new client with a sense of urgency about a proposed transaction.

These factors are based on an 8-point framework developed by Kemp and Mosqueda 2005, pp. 1123–27.