22 January, 2023

Financial abuse is a form of abuse in which the victim is financially exploited or manipulated. It can include controlling finances, withholding money, or various forms of stealing.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines elder financial abuse as “any illegal or improper exploitation or use of funds or resources of the older person.”

Below are some signs and examples of what financial abuse against older people may look like. We’ll also provide some details about stopping and preventing this abuse if you or an elderly loved one may be a victim.


What are common examples of elder financial abuse?

Financial abuse against elderly people can take many different forms, including control, exploitation, and theft.

Financial control can look like:

  • Taking charge of your finances
  • Having access/passwords to your bank accounts
  • Paying you an allowance from your own money
  • Misusing a Power of Attorney
  • Taking away access to your own bank accounts
  • Denying you money for living essentials, such as bills, food, and medications
  • Forcing you to sign up for a credit card
  • Making important financial decisions without you
  • Unpaid or late bills

Exploiting your finances can look like:

  • Forcing you to claim benefits like Centrelink
  • Making you work in a family business without paying you
  • Forcing or manipulating you to change your will
  • Living in your home without financially contributing
  • Gambling away your money or assets

Stealing and theft can look like:

  • Opening or taking your mail
  • Forging your signature on documents
  • Taking or spending your money without asking
  • Property or assets going missing
  • “Borrowing” money without paying it back
  • Accumulating debt on shared accounts or on your credit cards
  • Selling your possessions
  • Paying themselves an allowance from your money

These are just some common examples and scenarios of what financial abuse against the elderly can look like. Sometimes, there may be other explanations for occurrences. Other times, financial abuse may be happening without you even realising it.

It’s important to know the potential signs of elderly financial abuse so that you can get the help you need.


Who can experience elder financial abuse?

Financial abuse is the most common form of abuse against older people; it is expected that 1 in 10 older Australians experience financial elder abuse each month. The numbers are likely higher than that, though, as elder abuse is severely underreported.

Various risk factors, such as living together or having a caretaking arrangement, make elderly Australians more vulnerable to being financially abused. Older people with poor physical or psychological health, as well as with higher levels of social isolation, are at increased risk of experiencing elder abuse.

Currently, with more and more families moving in together to save on the rising cost-of-living, the risk of financial abuse is increasing for the older members of our communities and our families.

If you are worried, know that you are not alone.


Who might be a perpetrator of elder financial abuse?

The perpetrator of abuse may not always realise that what they are doing is abuse, or even that it is wrong.

Those who inflict abuse upon older people are most often family members, typically adult children. However, abusers can also be caretakers or friends. In the case of scams, the abuser is typically a stranger.

It is often the case that the victim is dependent on the perpetrator in some way. This might mean that the abuser cares for the elderly person by giving them medical treatment, doing their shopping, and other activities that the older person cannot do themselves.

Typically, financial abuse against the elderly goes hand-in-hand with emotional abuse. Examples of financial abuse coexisting with emotional abuse may include gaslighting or manipulation. Gaslighting and manipulation as financial abuse tactics might sound like:

  • “Your bank card isn’t missing; your memory is just going bad.”
  • “You’re getting too old to be responsible with your money.”
  • “I’m your child, you’re supposed to look after me.”

Sometimes, the abuser may not realise they are being abusive. The perpetrator may feel a sense of entitlement to the victim’s finances, and this might sound like:

  • “I don’t have to ask, I’m your child!”
  • “They would’ve wanted me to spend their money on this, anyways.”
  • “I take care of you, so it’s only fair that I take some money for myself.”

Other times, the perpetrator may be suffering from underlying mental health issues, such as substance abuse or gambling, which give them financial motives to steal and exploit. There is never an excuse for abuse; looking at and treating the underlying causes can help bring the financial abuse to an end.


How can you stop elder financial abuse?

Financial abuse can cause the victim to lose their life savings, their home, and their livelihood.

If you or someone you care about may be a victim of financial abuse, it is vital to reach out for help. Even if the perpetrator is someone that you feel dependent on or scared of, there are resources that prioritise the safety and the best interests of the older person.

6 out of every 10 Australians are worried about someone they know being a victim of elderly financial abuse. However, WHO projects that only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse are reported.

It’s everyone’s job to look after the most vulnerable members of our community; you can help stop financial abuse by reporting or reaching out.

Additionally, here are some tips on talking to an older person you’re worried about.


If you or someone you love may be a victim of elder financial abuse, our experienced counsellors can help. We can help you explore your concerns and possible solutions in a safe and supportive environment.

You can learn more about our Senior Financial Protection Service here, or call 1300 063 232.