In 2013-2014, the Elder Abuse Helpline reported 139 calls from elderly people who lost nearly $57 million in cases of financial abuse.
The Elder Abuse Hotline is run by the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU), which was established to promote the right of older people to live free from abuse. EAPU was established in 1997 following the release of “A Report of the Project on Abuse of Older People” (1994) commissioned by the then Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs.
A further 650 victims suffered losses of unspecified amounts and Helpline staff and Queensland Police have confirmed significant levels of under-reporting mean even these cases are likely to constitute only a fraction of those affected. An ongoing parliamentary committee enquiry into the financial protection of the elderly heard that the most likely abuser was an adult child. This makes it more difficult for the victims to make a formal complaint for fear of incriminating loved ones.
What is Financial Abuse?
During World Elder Abuse Awareness Week in 2015, Monash University released a study which outlines exactly what elder financial abuse is:
- Misappropriation or misuse of money, property or assets
- Exerting undue influence to give away assets or gifts
- Putting undue pressure on the older person to accept lower-cost or lower-quality services in order to preserve more financial resources to be passed to beneficiaries on death
- Carrying out unnecessary work or overcharging for a service
- Misuse of powers of attorney
- Denial to access funds
- Failure to repay loans
- Living with the older person and refusing to contribute money for expenses
- Forging or forcing an older person’s signature
- Promising long-term care in exchange for money or property and then not providing the promised care
- Getting an older person to sign a will, contract or power of attorney through deception, coercion or undue influence
- Abusing joint signatory authority on a blank form
- Getting an older person to be a guarantor for a loan where the benefit of the loan is for someone else without sufficient information or knowledge to make an informed decision
The Victorian Department of Human Services expands on the above and acknowledges that often financial abuse is combined with other forms of abuse and neglect:
- Taking, misusing or using, withholding knowledge about or permission in regard to money or property.
- Forging or forcing an older person’s signature or misleading them about what they are signing, including blank withdrawal forms.
- Misusing ATM cards or credit cards or credit facilities.
- Cashing an older person’s cheque without permission or authorisation or withholding portions of the cheque funds.
- Misappropriating funds from a pension.
- Using a Power of Attorney in a way contrary to the interests of the donor or for direct personal gain.
- Promising long-term care in exchange for money or property and not providing that care.
- Overcharging for or not delivering care giving services.
- Failing to provide reasonable consideration for the transfer of real estate or the acquisition of joint property.
- Negligently mishandling assets including misuse by a caregiver.
- Managing, without permission or legal authority, the finances of a competent older person.
- Getting an older person to become a guarantor without them having sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision.
- Pressuring an older person to take out a loan or a product which is not for their benefit – for example a shared equity loan or a reverse mortgage to pay for a relative’s debts or expenses.
- Predatory lending – unnecessary (no identified need) or unaffordable lending to a vulnerable older person which will cause a detriment or potential detriment to them and a gain to the lender.
- Scams – telephone, door to door or internet.
How Do I Identify Financial Abuse?
If you are worried about an older person who might be vulnerable to financial abuse, there are some signs you can look out for:
- Family members trying to inappropriately influence their parents’ choices including encouraging them to make changes to their will.
- Older person frequently changing their mind about their enduring power of attorney.
- Lack of money for day-to-day items.
- Loss of jewellery or personal belongings.
- Older person expressing fear, anxiety or confusion when discussing finances, assets, property.
- Unexplained amounts of money missing from bank accounts.
- Unpaid accounts.
- Loss of trust.
Unfortunately, there are other forms of elder abuse. While financial abuse is the most common form, others include sexual, physical, emotional and neglect. Often, different types of abuse co-exist with each other and so it’s not uncommon for emotional abuse and financial abuse to occur at the same time.
Each type of elder abuse should not be tolerated and needs to be dealt with immediately. It’s important to seek advice as soon as possible if you suspect the financial abuse of an older person. Contact us today for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation. At Mitchell’s Solicitors, we understand the grave effects of elder abuse and that it’s important to act as quickly as possible.