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Simple steps to protect against elder financial abuse

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Elder financial abuse comes in many forms.

Often it's perpetrated by children impatient to receive their inheritance, or worried that it will be too eroded by the time they get it.

Other times it can be the hand of a financial adviser who, against their better judgement, processes a client request to send large sums of money to a mysterious overseas bank account. In almost all cases, though, it involves a betrayal of trust.

The underreported nature of elder financial abuse makes accurate figures hard to come by, but here are a few:

  • 40% of the calls received by the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit in Queensland, between 2014-15, concerned elder financial abuse.
  • 61% of the calls received by Senior Rights Victoria between 2012 and 2014 regarded elder financial abuse. Elder abuse calls were most frequently made in relation to female victims (73%) and male perpetrators (60%); and the relationship of the abuser was most commonly the child of the elderly person (67%).
  • 46% of calls received by the NSW Elder Abuse Hotline over a period of two years reported elder financial abuse.

Now the financial services industry is stepping up to the plate, thanks in large part to the banking royal commission.

The Financial Services Council (FSC) has released an industry guide to prevent elder financial abuse, available here.

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) is also on board, outlining simple steps you can take to protect against elder financial abuse:

  • Always protect your bank and financial cards, cheque books and other important documents.
  • Never hand over a PIN or password to anyone.
  • If someone asks for money, discuss it first with a trusted family member or friend.
  • Get your affairs in order. Talk to your bank about setting up direct debits and pre-authorised bill payments. Consider who has third party authorisations over your accounts and ensure that they are trusted.
  • Keep a track on your bank accounts, investments and other assets.
  • Put in place arrangements, like power of attorney, for how your money and property will be handled if something happens to you or you can no longer communicate your wishes effectively.
  • Always read contracts and other documents carefully and never sign anything under duress, seek legal advice when in doubt or contact police if you think you are being abused.

For more information on recognising or avoiding elder financial abuse, visit the ABA website or free call 1800 353 374.

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David Thornton is a journalist at Money magazine. He previously worked at Your Money, covering market news as producer of Trading Day Live. Before that, he covered business and finance news at The Constant Investor. David holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of Melbourne.
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