Aussies urged to spot signs of elder financial abuse

This as the world observes Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Aussies urged to spot signs of elder financial abuse

Australians are being encouraged to stay vigilant to warning signs of elder financial abuse, as new research revealed that this age group may be at higher risk.

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) and the Commonwealth Bank issued the reminder as the world observed Elder Abuse Awareness Day, urging everyone to stay vigilant and help protect older Australians from financial abuse.

A CBA survey of nearly 2,000 Australians aged 65+ found that 28% have experienced financial abuse or know someone who has, with 52% of those who are experiencing financial abuse believing that they can deal with the behaviours of financial abuse themselves.

“Disturbingly, anyone can become a victim of a scam, fraud, or financial abuse, regardless of age,” said Angela MacMillan (pictured above left), group customer advocate at CBA. “However, as people age, they can be at higher risk of being taken advantage of financially.”

ABA CEO Anna Bligh (pictured above right) said World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is also a timely reminder for the federal and state attorneys-general to commit to a timeline to deliver reforms that will help protect older Australians from financial abuse.

Bligh said the implementation of nationally consistent laws governing enduring powers of attorney (EPOA) and the introduction of a national register for power of attorney documents “would offer older Australians much-needed additional protection against financial abuse, ensuring their rights and assets are safeguarded.” 

Spot the warning signs

Elder financial abuse can be subtle and hard to detect. They can take many forms and can also include one-off or repeated actions, threats, or even lack of action.

Here are some common warning signs to watch out for, according to ABA: 

  • unusual transactions after giving someone access to your account 
  • missing or confusing bank statements 
  • account withdrawals that don’t make sense 
  • feeling pressured to give someone access to your account or pin number  
  • feeling pressured to make changes to a will, power of attorney, or legal document  
  • feeling intimidated or controlled by another person

What to do about it

Bligh said Australian banks are first to see the impacts of elder abuse and have implemented some key initiatives to assist with its prevention. 

 “The banking sector is training staff and using software to recognise warning signs of elder abuse such as red flags on transactions,” Bligh said. “Banks are also providing tools to help customers manage accounts, such as pre-set digital banking, transaction limits, and notifications and two to sign arrangements.  

“In line with our best-practice guideline on preventing and responding to financial abuse (including elder financial abuse), banks are also referring customers for internal and external support such as specialised customer assistance and financial counselling.” 

 To help prevent incidents of financial abuse, one important safeguard is to immediately inform your bank of any concerns regarding other people’s access to your account. It is also crucial to plan ahead.

“Think about who you would trust to help manage your financial affairs and share your wishes and preferences with people you trust while you are healthy and not under pressure,” Bligh said. “You may also wish to consider a written family agreement or an enduring power of attorney.”

McMillan, too, stressed the importance of prioritising conversations about money and knowing the warning signs.

The CBA study suggested that there may be some stigma around talking about finances that leaves older Australians more vulnerable. Some 38% of the respondents said they have negative or mixed feelings about discussing money with family or friends. Some 70%, meanwhile, said they discuss money matters with family or friends every two to three months or less – that’s considerably less frequently than any other age group.

The same study also found that nine in 10 of those surveyed believed there would be barriers for those experiencing financial abuse in seeking support, and six in 10 would not be confident that they would know how to help someone experiencing it.

CBA released its newly updated Safe & Savvy guide to help older Australians avoid financial abuse, scams, and fraud.

“It details the necessary tools to protect themselves from financial abuse and highlights the support available if they suspect they are experiencing it,” MacMillan said, adding that the guide will also help readers feel more confident when discussing money with their loved ones.

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