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Elder Abuse (including financial abuse)

When we talk to financial advisers or go to conferences in other countries, the topic of financial abuse of elders comes up regularly.  Sadly will happen more often as our population ages and lives longer.

Although there isn’t a high profile about this issue in New Zealand we regularly see articles in the media (in the court news area) about older people who have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.

While we sincerely hope that none of our clients are in the situation where they are being pressured into financial assistance of children or friends or even strangers, no-one knows everything that happens in a person’s life or home.

This article is to highlight the issue, so that you can be aware of the warning signs, and of assistance that is available in New Zealand where elder financial abuse is suspected.

What is elder abuse (Age Concern)

What is financial abuse? (from The Commission for Financial Capability)

The unauthorised and improper use of funds, property or any resources.

Victims may lose their life savings and, for older people who are no longer working and have no way to recover from their losses, this can be heart-breaking. It doesn't just impact your finances it can impact your mental and physical wellbeing too.

We know that a lot of financial abuse goes unreported because victims are embarrassed to tell their family. Ageing can leave you determined to prove that you're not getting ‘old and silly' so it can be hard to admit that you've been scammed. It's worth noting that New Zealanders lost over $12 million to scammers

What does elder abuse look like? (from Age Concern)

Commonly, several types of abuse occur together.  The types of abuse include:

Psychological Abuse

Behaviour causing mental anguish, stress or fear.  For example:

  • ridicule or threats
  • harassment or humiliation
  • preventing choice or decision-making
  • withholding affection.

Financial Abuse                                                 

Illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets.  For example:

  • unauthorised taking of money or possessions
  • misuse of power of attorney
  • failure to repay loans
  • use of home and/or utilities without contributing to costs
  • scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their savings and/or assets, e.g. romance scams.

Physical Abuse

Infliction of pain, injury or use of force.  For example:

  • hitting, pushing, rough handling
  • over-medication
  • inappropriate use of restraints or confinement.


Not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:

  • inadequate food, clothing, shelter
  • lack of social contact, support
  • health needs not attended to.

Sexual Abuse

Non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours. For example:

  • inappropriate touching
  • sexual acts with someone unable to give consent.

Institutional Abuse

A policy or accepted practice within an organisation that disregards a person’s rights or causes harm. For example:

  • lack of respect for a person’s culture or customs
  • inappropriate rationing of continence products
  • inflexible routines e.g. breakfast at 8 am in the dining room.

Signs an elderly friend or relative is the subject of financial abuse

  • They're not allowed access to their own money.
  • They're always accompanied to the bank and watched over.
  • They break term deposits or there are unexplained large sum withdrawals.
  • There is an increased number of banking transactions.

Protect your money

  • Rearrange your accounts so that you only keep limited funds to cover day-to-day expenses in an easy access account.
  • Put substantial funds in a different account not accessed by EFTPOS or ATM.
  • If you feel pressured to give someone access to your account contact your bank and let them know.

Banks can give you advice on how to protect your account and they can also monitor accounts for any unusual activity.

Protect your PIN:

  • Don't give your PIN number to anyone – including over the phone or internet.
  • When making a purchase never let anyone enter your PIN number for you.
  • Remember no-one needs to know your PIN number but you.

You can also use your SuperGold Card as identification at the bank.

Warning signs of scams

  • You're asked for your personal details, bank account or credit card details.
  • You're asked to pay up-front for something, like a tax refund, or claiming a prize or inheritance
  • You're asked and feel pressured to make a quick decision.
  • You're told to keep the offer a secret
  • They give vague contact details, a mobile number only or a PO Box number.
  • They offer you a deal that's too good to be true.

Where to get help for financial abuse

The Elder Abuse Response Service (EARS) launched on 1 July.

"All seniors deserve to be treated with respect, with dignity and with care, whatever their background or circumstances. When it comes to raising awareness of this scourge of elder abuse we need look no further than the sickening cases reported in the media. No-one deserves the fate of Ena Lai Dung who had 15 broken bones and weighed just 29kg when ambulance officers found her body – her daughter was jailed for 13 years for manslaughter.

Up to 70,000 seniors will experience some form of elder abuse this year – physical, psychological, sexual, financial or neglect – more than three-quarters of them by family members, but too many cases are unreported sometimes because people are ashamed to admit they're being abused. That has to change. If you're a victim or believe someone you know is being abused please call the help line – 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK)."

Legal Help

If you have concerns about financial abuse it's worth getting legal advice. If you don't have a lawyer the Citizens' Advice Bureau can provide initial legal advice, or you can ask your local Community Law Centre

If you have any thoughts or opinions that you would like to share, visit us at our Twitter,  Facebook or Linked In pages, and comment.

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By Carey Church


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