Financial abuse, what is it and what can be done?

Financial abuse involves controlling, deceiving or coercing somebody’s financial freedom or independence. The abusers are often a family member, friend, carer, spouse or de facto partner. The abuser could even be an impatient relative competing for inheritance.

An abusive relationship can include physical or emotional abuse, economic abuse and/or financial abuse.

Financial abuse can exist in different forms

Financial abuse occurs to all sorts of people, signs of financial abuse include:

  • Anyone in an abusive domestic relationship;
  • Forcing a vulnerable person to take out a loan or product which does not benefit them;
  • An abuser could be a Power of Attorney abusing their authority for their own gain, taking money from someone’s account to pay personal bills;
  • Attempting to manage someone’s finances and controlling what they spend;
  • Pressuring someone into being a guarantor when they lack knowledge or the capacity to make an informed decision;
  • An abuser could be a carer who claims to be a good friend but has no direct blood relationship with the victim.

Controlling bank accounts and access to own money

Financial abuse will usually involve controlling a joint bank account or not allowing the person to have their own bank account. The abuser may make the person financially dependent on them by limiting the person's access to their own money.

Financially abusive behaviours include:

  • Controlling the payment of bills
  • Making the financial decisions without the person’s input
  • Abuser controls child support payments or Centrelink payments
  • Control of a person’s pension
  • Controlling joint accounts and joint credit cards

In some cases an abusive partner or family member may prevent the person’s ability to gain financial security by not letting them get a job or get access to social security benefits.

Experiencing financial abuse?

If you are experiencing financial abuse, physical abuse or any other forms of domestic violence you have access to services and help.

How the Trustee and Guardian can help

Depending on whether the NSW trustee and guardian is appointed as a financial manager or guardian, or both, they may be able to help.
Other useful contacts:
NSW Trustee and Guardian on 1300 109 290
Abuse of Older People 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374)
NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal 1300 006 228

Difficulties reporting financial abuse

It can be difficult for a person subject to financial abuse to report the mistreatment. Some of these reasons can trigger more vulnerability or even fear. Control of financial assets or financial resources gives the abuser financial control and enduring power over their victim.

Fear of losing the relationship

The fear of losing a connection with a loved one can become stronger as you age. Some can fear abandonment, especially when living alone; your mind can become fixated on negative thoughts. For some people, the fear of loneliness can be too much to endure. Loneliness can be stronger than the fear of financial loss so the victim will agree to do things they are not comfortable with.

Fear of possible retaliation

The person may be scared to seek help. If an elderly or disabled person needs assistance through a support system, the abuse could come from having that dependence. The lack of access and isolation can prevent the victim from reporting the abuse. Another reason could be that the person worries that they have no evidence to back up the abuse and that no one will believe them.

Not wanting to face the truth

When it is someone you love, it is hard to adapt to the possibility that a loved one may be carrying out the exploitation, especially if you have no proof. An example would be when unauthorised transactions may appear on a card, and the only reasonable explanation is that the card was taken because it is proven that the card had to be present for the purchase.

Fear of not being believed

Some victims of financial abuse suffer from dementia. People perceive that dementia is always associated with old age or the inability to understand or make clear decisions. This perception could generate fear in the person of no one believing them if they were to report the abuse.

Wanting to protect the person

Financial abuse can be reported to the police depending on the incident. The feeling of not wanting to create any legal repercussions for a loved one can get in the way of reporting the abuse. There are other ways to stop this from happening to avoid financial abuse in the future.

What to do if you recognise an abusive relationship

Ask straightforward, non-threatening questions if someone seems to be acting suspiciously. Take the person aside so they are on their own to determine if they are under any financial manipulation.

If you think someone is in danger, call the police immediately. If you need to report financial abuse, you can do so anonymously, or if you are experiencing financial abuse, you should seek professional advice from the following:

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal 1300 006 228
NSW Trustee and Guardian on 1300 109 290
White Ribbon Australia call 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732