Financial abuse is a form of abuse that often goes hand in hand with other abuses. Frequently, financial abuse is a part of domestic abuse, being employed as a way of controlling the victim and preventing her from being able to escape the abusive relationship. It’s also an all too common form of elder abuse. Anyone who is frail, sick, in an institution or unable to handle their own finances completely and with understanding is vulnerable to financial abuse.
Financial abuse is often a part of another abuse such as domestic violence or emotional/psychological abuse or even bullying. It can result from drug or alcohol addictions too.
What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is any abuse involving money. It can be perpetrated by an individual or an organisation. If someone forces you to take money from your account to give to them, takes money from you, pressures you into giving them money, borrows from you and refuses to repay the loan, forces you to sign something without explaining the full implications or allowing you to read the small print, takes your benefits or charges for services you have not received or requested, it is financial abuse. Financial abuse can also involve cowboy traders who undertake work and leave a substandard job after receiving payment.
Types of Financial Abuse
Although all financial abuse is the forcible controlling of a person’s finances in one way or another, there are recognizable types of abuse within the classification.
Financial abuse in domestic abuse/domestic violence
This is when an abusive partner restricts or controls the victim’s access to their own money or means of earning money in order to exert further control in the relationship. It is common in cases of domestic violence as it is a very successful means of destroying the victim’s chances of escaping the abusive situation and isolating them from possible sources of help.
Financial abuse of an elder in the home
Older people are ever vulnerable to financial abuse in a variety of situations. In the home, they become reliant on the younger members of the family for many aspects of their lives, including the care of their finances. It is very easy for an unscrupulous adult child or partner of an adult child to pressure the older person to use their financial resources in a certain way that may not be in their best interests but, rather, in a way that favors the abuser. An elderly person may be persuaded to sign a power of attorney that allows the abuser to control all her legal and financial afairs.
Financial abuse of an elder or disabled person in care
This type of abuse occurs when an elder or other vulnerable person is in residential care. A member of the care home staff may befriend the person and cajole them into parting with their money, to signing financial documents that they do not fully understand, or even to changing their will to benefit the abuser.
Financial abuse by a trades-person or stranger
A different form of financial abuse may be perpetrated by a tradesman. Typically, this type of person targets the vulnerable, such as the elderly or lone women. They will offer to do what they claim is essential work on the person’s home, or perhaps on their car, and take a large amount of money upfront. The work is then left uncompleted, or completed in substandard fashion.
Financial abuse resulting from addictions
If a person is addicted to something, be it drugs, alcohol, other substances or gambling, he or she has an overriding desire to feed the addiction. This can result in them misappropriating money from family and friends in order to satisfy the need to indulge in the addiction. This type of financial abuse is commonly found in young, dating couples as well as within a family setting. The addict may steal money or belongings by stealth, or by coercing the victim into handing over cash, credit cards and bank books.
Financial abuse in bullying
Bullies in the school yard or other settings in which young children or people are placed together are also sometimes guilty of financial abuse. A school yard bully might force his victim to hand over lunch money or money he has been given to pay for a sports club or school trip. As the victim is often afraid to report the bullying this type of financial abuse can go undetected for some time. If questioned by a parent or teacher, the bullied child claims to have ‘lost’ the money, or even to have spent it themselves on sweets or something else plausible.
Understanding financial abuse
On the face of it, financial abuse is easy to understand, in that it removes money from its rightful owner by unfair means. However, as with all abuses, there are emotional and other issues involved that cloud the picture and make it difficult for many victims to see what is happening to them.
If the financial abuse is part of a wider picture of domestic violence, the victim may already be so browbeaten and confused that she is unable to recognize the financial abuse. An abusive partner may claim that as her husband or partner she has a duty to share anything she has, and that this means she must hand over her money if he asks her to. Victims are also often told that they are not ‘good with money’ and so it is in their best interests to allow the partner to take control. Commonly, in cases of domestic abuse, a victim’s access to her own finances is restricted to prevent her from being able to escape the relationship. If an abused woman cannot draw money from her bank, she cannot put fuel in the car, go to see her friends or, crucially, run away and seek refuge elsewhere. Sometimes, the financial abuse takes a more subtle and devious form. An abusive partner might sabotage his victim’s career (and, consequently, her financial future) by preventing her from attending work or college regularly.
Women who are financially abused are very often unable to see that what is happening to them is really abuse. They do not want to believe that the person they love is capable of what amounts to theft, or are too frightened to stand up for themselves.
Financial abuse of elders and disabled or vulnerable family members in the home also frequently goes unreported. Many victims who fall into this category are unable, physically, mentally or emotionally, to stand up for themselves or fight their own corner. Often, they are unaware of the abuse or the extent of the abuse. These people may be abused for any of the usual reasons (ie, as a means of control, or to feed an addiction) or simply because they present an easy target. The same goes for those who are financially abused in institutions or by outsiders.
The type of financial abuse that is part of childhood bullying is a little different. It is usually less about the bully really wanting or needing the money that they take and more about simply exerting power (or being seen by others to exert power) over the victim.
Facts about financial abuse
Although it is impossible to get a complete picture of the extent of the problem of financial abuse, there are facts and statistics available that may be useful in giving a general idea. However, they must be regarded as a guide only, as many cases of this type of abuse go unrecognized and unreported. The following facts are samples from research conducted in the UK, the US and Canada.
- In relationships where the man controls the finances, a woman is over 7 times more likely to suffer severe domestic abuse.
- Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse helpline for Ireland and the UK, received 1,900 calls reporting financial abuse in the year 2008.
- A study completed in 1995 states that lack of financial or material resources was the prime reason why abused women were unable to escape violent or otherwise abusive relationships. 88% of women were trapped as they had no place of escape, while 77% felt trapped because of financial dependence on the abusive partner.
- The economic recession has worsened the situation for many victims of domestic and financial abuse.
- In the US, elders represent 12% of the overall population. This demographic also makes up 35% of the US’s victims of fraud.
- The likelihood of financial abuse increases with age.
- Women over the age of 70 are highly vulnerable to financial abuse.
- The US National Centre on Elder Abuse reports that almost a third of elder abuse cases involve financial exploitation.
- Women of all ages are more likely to experience financial abuse than men.
What to do if you are suffering from financial abuse
If you suspect that you are a victim of financial abuse, the first thing to do is to know how to recognize this abuse. If the following apply, financial abuse may be taking place.
- Your partner does not allow you access to the finances.
- Your partner monitors your spending closely.
- You are only allowed ‘enough’ money for essentials with your partner controlling the rest.
- Your partner keeps all bank cards, check books and statements.
- Your partner or other person demands that you give him money without being open to reasonable discussion.
- Your partner sabotages your career, stopping you from attending work or college regularly.
- A person, whether a family member or not, demands that you sign financial paperwork without you being able to ascertain exactly what you are signing.
- Someone takes over control of your pension without obtaining your willing consent.
Even if you are uncertain as to whether abuse is taking place, you can ask for help to find out. There are dedicated services to offer advice and support, whatever your age and situation. Financial abuse is a crime, and everyone is entitled to help.
If you are unwilling to call the authorities, or feel afraid to do so, you may be able to speak to an impartial friend or to your family doctor or social worker.
Some helplines and websites that you can call or access for help are listed below.
If you suffer from financial abuse or suspect you have, the first thing you need to know how to do is to manage your finances. And this means you should understand the basics of managing your bank account. Go to echeck.org for more information about banking help.
What to do if you know or suspect that someone you know is a victim of financial abuse
If you know or suspect that someone you know is being financially exploited, there are various avenues open to you to obtain advice. It is helpful to understand the red flag signs that financial abuse may be taking place, especially in cases of suspected elder abuse or the abuse of a disabled person who may not be able to recognize the abuse themselves. It is always a fine line to walk, as there are, of course, legitimate cases where an elder or disabled person is unable to manage their own finances, but any suspicions of wrong doing are worth investigating.
- If someone you know makes unexplained changes to their banking arrangements, perhaps changing or adding a name on the account, abuse may be taking place.
- If large sums of money are suddenly withdrawn or new smaller sums vanish on a regular basis, it can indicate abuse.
- If an elder states that they want to sign over a power of attorney to another person but seems to have a confused or incomplete understanding of what this is, they may be a victim of financial abuse.
- If anyone complains that their mail has gone missing and that they are no longer receiving bank statements and such documents, abuse is indicated.
- If an older or vulnerable person suddenly seems to have acquired a new and inexplicably close friend, it may indicate financial exploitation.
- A person of any age suddenly becomes secretive about their finances.
- An elder or vulnerable person makes sudden changes to their will or changes the name of the person who can pick up their pension or benefits check.
- If a child is inexplicably losing or sending their money in a way that is unusual, financial abuse through bullying may be suspected.
If you are close to the person that you suspect may be being financially exploited, you could try talking to them…although listening is usually more useful than talking. You may also discuss your concerns with the family doctor or social worker, or use the telephone numbers and websites listed below under Resources.