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.
While financial abuse can occur to anyone, it is a particular problem for older New Zealanders. Half of elder abuse — abuse of an older person — is financial abuse and it's often family members who are responsible.
Financial abuse includes 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 by, for example, buying a new house for themselves
- abuses their Enduring Power of Attorney over your property.
Older people are often the target of scams. These could be:
- mail scams, such as a letter saying you've won the lottery or inherited a large estate, and demanding you pay taxes or fees before the money can be released
- internet scams, for example you have an online romantic relationship with someone who then asks for a loan, or for you to transfer money overseas for them
- door knockers, that is people coming to your door and offering a service that you haven't asked for, which they then want to be paid upfront for.
Signs of financial abuse
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 can't 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 don’t 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.
Their coordinators work with the older person to establish what is happening and then develop a safety plan to stop any more harm occurring. This might include working with the older person and:
- their family to stop the harmful behaviour
- their bank to change PIN numbers
- the police to recover money or issue trespass orders
- supporting their application to the courts to get:
- a property manager appointed, or
- an Enduring Power of Attorney revoked.
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
Most people seek independent advice before:
- signing contracts
- making major decisions, such as selling their family home
- becoming a guarantor for someone — if they can't pay back the loan, you'll become responsible for the debt.
If you don't 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've an up-to-date will and that your family knows about it.
Netsafe has good advice on how to protect yourself online.
If you think you have been the victim of an online scam report it using Netsafe's online tool, the Orb.
Protect yourself from scams
Scamwatch has information about scams and how to protect yourself from scammers. You can also follow them on Facebook to see alerts about current scams.