Financial abuse is when someone steals your money or property, fails to repay money you’ve lent them, or forces you to give them money or sell your property for their benefit.
Who can be a victim of financial abuse
While financial abuse can happen to anyone, it is a particular problem for older New Zealanders. Half of elder abuse is financial abuse, and it’s often family members who are responsible.
How to recognise a financial abuser
A financial abuser is someone who:
- takes your money or possessions without your knowledge or approval
- fails to repay loans you’ve made to them
- lives in your home, uses your phone, electricity and water, and eats your food without contributing to the costs
- forces you to provide them with money or property
- pressures you into selling your house and then using that money for themselves
- abuses their Enduring Power of Attorney over your property.
How to recognise if someone is being abused
A person who is being financially abused might:
- not have enough money for essential things like food, power bills or medicine
- avoid social activities or drop hobbies because they cannot afford them
- be reluctant to make a will, or
- not want to talk about budgets.
You might also notice that:
- their savings are disappearing
- their possessions have disappeared
- their house has been sold but they’re not sure why
- signatures on documents or cheques do not resemble their signature, or
- there have been unusual withdrawals from their bank accounts.
What to do if you suspect financial abuse
You can report it to your local Elder Abuse & Neglect Prevention Service (EANPS). There is one in most areas of New Zealand.
If it involves a large amount of money, or if you’re concerned for your safety, report it to the police.
If the abuser is a staff member or volunteer at a rest home, first complain to the rest home manager.
If you think the person’s bank was at fault — by allowing someone else to withdraw money — complain to the bank. If you’ve made a complaint and are unhappy with the bank’s response, you can contact the Banking Ombudsman.
Protect yourself from financial abuse
You can seek independent advice before:
- signing contracts
- making major decisions, such as selling their family home
- becoming a guarantor for someone — if they cannot pay back the loan, you’ll become responsible for the debt.
If you do not have a lawyer, you can ask a Community Law Centre for advice.
Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) for property
An EPA for property can offer some protection. It’s a legal document that means someone you trust can make decisions for you about your money, house, land and belongings if you’re unable to cope.
Make sure you have an up-to-date will and that your family knows about it.