Financial abuse can happen to anyone. People can be particularly vulnerable to financial abuse when they are dependent on family members and other people for their day-to-day care or social contact.
- Call 000 if you are in immediate danger
- To speak with a specialist team at RAMS who can help you manage your finances during difficult circumstances call RAMS Priority Assist on 1800 646 594.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse occurs when someone manipulates your financial decision-making, or misuses or controls your money, financial resources, or property or assets without your knowledge or consent.
Financial abuse can happen to anyone, at any time, no matter their age, gender or sexual orientation. People who are dependent on family members and other people for their day-to-day care or social contact can be particularly vulnerable to financial abuse.
A ‘financial abuser’ can be someone you hardly know or someone you have known all your life. They could be family members, friends, acquaintances or strangers who befriend you. They may also be professionals or caregivers employed to help you.
There can be many different reasons why financial abuse starts. For example:
- A person may feel a sense of entitlement to your money.
- Someone in a position of trust, such as an attorney or person appointed to manage your affairs, may not be well-equipped for that role.
- It may be a gradual change, where someone initially managing your money responsibly begins to take advantage opportunistically.
- It’s important to remember that there are no circumstances in which financial abuse is acceptable, so if you think this might be happening to you, don’t be afraid to get help.
Protecting yourself from financial abuse
To help protect yourself from financial abuse:
- If someone asks for money, discuss it first with a trusted family member or friend.
- Get your affairs in order. Consider setting up direct debits and pre-authorised bill payments. Consider who has third party authorisations over your accounts and ensure that they are trusted.
- Consider planning for the future to ensure your wishes are followed by carefully choosing and setting up a trustworthy person to act as your representative with power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person the right to make financial and/or legal decisions on your behalf.
- You may have heard of two types of power of attorney – ‘general’ and ‘enduring’. A general power of attorney is in place for a particular period of time or for a particular purpose – for example if you are away from home for an extended period. An enduring power of attorney remains valid over time – even when you are no longer able to make your own decisions. You can set it up now to start at a later time specified by you, or when you no longer have the capacity to manage your financial and legal affairs. Equally you can set it up to start as soon as the attorney has accepted their appointment. When granting a power of attorney you can put limits on what your attorney can do. Find out more about setting up a power of attorney.
- Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion or independent advice.
- Feel free to say ‘no’ - it’s your money.
- Trust your instincts - if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right.
- Keep track of your finances, investments and other assets by checking your bank statements regularly to make sure there have been no unauthorised transactions.
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year to check for anything unexpected.
- Open your own mail if you can.
- Stay in touch with the people you trust and care about.
- If you choose to lend money to someone, summarise the arrangement in a letter or email and set up a repayment plan.
- Never sign a document or make a large financial decision unless you understand the terms and what your obligations are. If I doubt, seek independent legal advice.
Understanding whether you may be experiencing financial abuse
It can be hard to recognise when you are experiencing financial abuse – particularly when the abuser is someone you have placed your trust in, or are dependent on for aspects of your care. It often involves actions over a period of time.
Warning signs may include:
- Another person is accessing or controlling your bank accounts or credit cards or using them without your consent.
- You are being pressured to change your will, power of attorney or other legal arrangements.
- A friend or family member is pressuring you to appoint them as your attorney under an enduring power of attorney.
The person you've appointed as your attorney under a general or enduring power of attorney is not acting in your best interests. For example they're taking money from your bank account to pay their bills.
- Your signature has been forged on cheques, applications to open bank accounts or legal documents.
- You are being pressured to sign a document, such as a blank withdrawal form or blank loan application, or feel you are being misled about what you are being asked to sign.
- Your bills haven't been paid, even though you have entrusted someone to do this for you.
- You are being asked to pay an unreasonable amount for services. For example handy work around the house, car repair.
- Your money is being used for a purpose other than what you wanted.
- Your cheques are being cashed without your permission or authorisation, or some of the funds are being withheld from you.
- You are being pressured to invest money in schemes that sound too good to be true.
- Large or unexplained withdrawals or transfers have been made from your bank account.
- You're no longer receiving your mail, including account statements, and you don't know why.
- You are being isolated from your family or friends, or threatened with being isolated if you don't give the abuser what they want.
- Your property or possessions are being used without your permission.
- You are feeling pressured to act as a guarantor when you feel you don’t understand enough about the transaction and the risks involved, or simply don’t want to act in a guarantor role.
- You are being made to pay for someone else’s expenses. For example someone shares a home with you and does not contribute to bills, maintenance and other expenses.
- You are being made to feel guilty if you don't give money to the abuser or their family.
How we can help
We understand that it can be hard to talk about, or take action to stop financial abuse. When you’re talking to one of our RAMS representatives, you are entitled to speak with them separately from your support person, friend or carer. When you tell us that you suspect financial abuse, depending on your personal circumstances, we may:
- Put activity on your accounts on hold or delay a specific transaction or set of transactions while we investigate your situation. This may prevent any transactions being made, including by anyone holding a power of attorney, administration or guardianship order.
- Check that any person acting on your behalf appears to have appropriate authorisation based on the information available to us.
- Help you to understand your existing accounts with us.
- Help you change any myRAMS logon details and PINs to help protect your money and the security of your information. Please note this may not be appropriate in circumstances where an abuser controlling your finances may potentially become violent.
- Help you change the address for any mail that we send to you, including any new cards. You may wish to nominate the address of a trusted person.
- If you are in financial difficulty or have concerns in relation to your RAMS home loan, you can call the RAMS Priority Assist team directly on 1800 646 594. The team will determine assistance on a case by case basis, for example, varying loan repayments to make them more affordable.
Understanding your rights
If you believe you may be experiencing financial abuse, you should seek legal advice. You may be able to obtain free legal advice from a community legal centre or Legal Aid office in your state or territory. See the ASIC MONEYSMART website for details.
Accessing guidance on fraud and scams
Financial abuse is not the same as a fraud or scam, although financial abuse can sometimes involve fraud. Find out more information on how you can protect your security, including from fraud and scams.
Accessing other forms of information and support
Lifeline. Lifeline provides Australians experiencing a personal crisis with 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14.
Financial abuse and how to protect yourself
- ASIC MONEYSMART: Financial Abuse.
- ASIC MONEYSMART: Memory loss, dementia and your money.
- Financial abuse – the facts and how to protect yourself.
- Department of Human Services: Information on elder and financial abuse as an aspect of family violence – including Government support available.
- My Aged Care is the Australian Government’s online and phone service with information about aged care services. Call 1800 200 422.
Powers of attorneys, guardianship and administration
Setting up a power of attorney to help manage your banking needs.
The Australian Guardianship and Administration Council website has links to State and Territory member organisation with information on power of attorney documents and other guardianship issues.
Support and advocacy
- My Aged Care: Elder abuse concerns. Information on elder abuse and contact details for information and support options in every State and Territory.
- ACT – Older Persons Abuse Prevention Referral and Information Line (APRIL) - 02 6205 3535
- ACT – ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS) - (02) 6242 5060
- NSW – NSW Elder Abuse Helpline - 1800 628 221
- NT – Elder Abuse Information Line - 1800 037 072
- QLD – Elder Abuse Prevention Unit - 1300 651 192. Interstate call (07) 3867 2525.
- SA – Aged Rights Advocacy Service - 08 8232 5377
- SA – Elder Abuse Phoneline - 1800 372 310
- TAS - Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline - 1800 441 169 or (03) 6237 0047
- VIC – Senior Rights Victoria - 1300 368 821
- VIC – Elder Rights Advocacy - (03) 9602 3066 or 1800 700 600
- WA – Elder Abuse Helpline - 1300 724 679
- WA – Advocare - 1300 724 679 (Perth) or 1800 655 566 (rural)
- WA – Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service - Provides independent advice, information, referral and ongoing casework assistance including representation and advocacy, 08 9238 1751.
- National Aged Care Advocacy Line on 1800 700 600 or visit the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) website to find out more about advocacy services.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your debt situation, you may want to consider contacting the National Debt Helpline which offers a free, independent and confidential financial counselling service. A financial counsellor can help you with your overall debt situation, advise you on what other benefits or support you might be entitled to, advocate on your behalf with all your creditors and refer you on to other appropriate support services in your local area.