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The signs of elder abuse

Could you or someone you know be suffering from elder financial abuse? These are the danger signs…

One of the great things about being part of a community is how we can help each other out in times of need.

Perhaps you’ve heard of elder financial abuse and have concerns that a friend, family member, neighbour or acquaintance is experiencing it.

If that’s the case it’s important to show you care enough to check that everything is alright.

Elder financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an older person’s property, finances, and other assets without their informed consent, or where consent is obtained it is by fraud, manipulation, or duress.

It can take different forms: using an older person’s bank account or credit card without their consent; keeping the change from a shopping trip; pension-skimming; denying the person access to their money or bank statements.

At its worst, it may involve a loan that is never paid back or the misuse of a Power of Attorney. Someone may be coerced into changing their will or other legal documents or promised care and a granny flat in return for transferring their home to a child.

Even if the person is aware that they are experiencing these issues, they may find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about.

So it is important that as friends, family members, neighbours, or fellow members of social or sporting groups, we know some of the red flags that may indicate elder financial abuse.

Warning signs

These include difficulty paying bills; unexplained disappearance of possessions; significant bank withdrawals or unusual activity on their credit card or bank statement; or changes to a will.

These may be some of the red flags we would expect, but there can also be more subtle ones that may indicate someone is being coerced.

For instance, missing items such as medications or hearing aids can be a sign that someone is withdrawing items necessary to someone’s health to manipulate them into handing over money, signing a loan document, or changing a will.

A change in someone’s demeanour and attitude can be cause for alarm, as can social withdrawal or someone appearing anxious or nervous around a particular person.

If someone is doing something untoward, they may try to keep an older person isolated.

Help is at hand

The good news is there is a growing number of resources to help people prevent elder financial abuse from occurring. For instance, this may include seeking independent advice and drafting a family agreement if someone decides to transfer their home to a child in exchange for a granny flat and care.

It may also cover clearly documenting whether money given is as a loan or a gift.

Each state and territory now has an elder abuse helpline where people can raise issues, seek advice and obtain referrals.

So if you are unsure whether someone you know may be experiencing elder financial abuse you can give them a call and have a chat.

Seniors Rights Victoria also produces a fact sheet for friends and family who are concerned someone may be experiencing elder abuse, which includes advice on how to approach a conversation with that person.