What is financial abuse?
There are a number of definitions of what constitutes financial abuse of older people.
The World Health Organisation defines financial abuse of an older person as, "The illegal or improper exploitation or use of funds or other resources of the older person". The definition includes acts with adverse outcomes committed not only by people known to and trusted by the victim, but also acts perpetrated by strangers and by institutions.
Abuse may be intentional or unintentional. Intentional financial abuse is defined in Monash University's Protecting Elders’ Assets Study (PDF), as “the separation of a person from the benefit of their assets for the benefit of another, involving deliberate intention”. Unintended abuse is “the inadvertent or uninformed financial mismanagement or neglect of financial assets which causes the deprivation of benefits to be derived from those assets”.
The following are given in the study as common examples of financial abuse:
- misappropriation or misuse of money, property or assets
- exerting undue influence to give away assets or gifts
- putting undue pressure on the older person to accept lower-cost or lower-quality services in order to preserve more financial resources to be passed to beneficiaries on death
- carrying out unnecessary work or overcharging for a service
- misuse of powers of attorney
- denial to access funds
- failure to repay loans
- living with the older person and refusing to contribute money for expenses
- forging or forcing an older person’s signature
- promising long-term care in exchange for money or property and then not providing the promised care
- getting an older person to sign a will, contract or power of attorney through deception, coercion or undue influence
- abusing joint signatory authority on a blank form
- getting an older person to be a guarantor for a loan where the benefit of the loan is for someone else without sufficient information or knowledge to make an informed decision.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services expands upon this, pointing out that financial abuse is often combined with other forms of abuse and neglect.