Spotting the signs of financial elder abuse

Spotting the signs of financial elder abuse

Financial abuse of older people in Australia is more common than you may think. Here we explain how to recognise the warning signs and step in to help.

The population of people aged 65 and over is growing rapidly. By 2025 this cohort will outnumber children and by 2050 it will make up around one quarter of all Australians.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June recognises that greater attention needs to be paid to the specific challenges affecting older people, including in the field of human rights.

Elder abuse is a problem that exists across the world. In Australia, research suggests that one in six older Australians is experiencing some form of abuse, though exact numbers are hard to come by as it often goes underreported. Therefore, it is important for everyone to be able to spot the signs that it is occurring.

Financial elder abuse is on the increase

Elder abuse can take many forms, including psychological, physical, financial or neglect. People with poor physical or psychological health and higher levels of social isolation are the most at risk.

Financial elder abuse has increased in recent years, partly driven by older people becoming more isolated during the Covid pandemic.

The prevalence of internet usage and online transacting has also seen a rise in the number of scams targeting elderly people. Some examples include impersonating a government department, robocalls and phone scams and computer tech support scams.

In addition, the high cost of living is leading to more cases of ‘inheritance impatience,’ where adult children feel a sense of entitlement to the assets of their parents or other family members. Older people are particularly at risk when the family member has Power of Attorney over them, as this makes it easier to manipulate or illegally manage assets.

Recognising the signs

Some signs of financial elder abuse to look out for include:

  • Unexplained withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts;
  • Suspicious looking signatures;
  • Confusion about where assets are held;
  • Not having enough money to pay bills or meet basic needs;
  • Expensive items such as cars and jewelry going missing;
  • Transfers of assets such as property; and
  • Wills being changed suddenly.

How to act

Every Australian deserves to live a life where they feel safe and financially secure. If you have the slightest concern, it is important to ask questions and take action.

The Australian Government’s Be Connected program is designed to help older people to navigate online banking and stay safe online.

Uniting Financial Services can also assist. If you are concerned that someone may be trying to take advantage of your UFS investments or loans, call us on 1300 133 673. Examples may include someone asking for personal details such as passcodes, sending suspicious links or requesting an urgent transfer of funds from a UFS facility. 

If you suspect someone with Power of Attorney has abused their powers, you can report these concerns to a lawyer or to the office of the Public Guardian in your state.

You can also get in touch with the National Elder Abuse team on 1800 353 374, which will automatically redirect you to your state or territory phone line service for free and confidential advice.

Shannon Kong, Head of Partner Solutions and Support, UFS


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