The rise of financial elder abuse

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A little bit of Leonard Cohen to start with?

In 2005, 71-year-old Leonard Cohen sued his long-time business manager and friend for misappropriating some US$5 million from his accounts. The manager was regarded as almost part of the family and held a position of great trust.

The important element of that story is that the culprit was regarded as a trusted friend. Closer to home, thousands of elderly people are likewise financially abused – sadly, often at the hands of trusted family members. Reports indicate that some 50% of cases are by offspring, around 35% by other family members: spouse or siblings, another 7% by trusted friends (though we find it difficult to use that word in this context). The balance is by other people, including the latest scammers.

One quite astounding comment by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority is that generally, the perpetrator has a genuine sense of entitlement, and can’t really accept that the money isn’t already theirs. Perhaps there may be a feeling that since one is going to inherit anyway, that it may as well be accessed earlier. What’s it matter?

One very good reason, quite aside from ethics, morals, and decency is that taking what isn’t yours is still theft.


Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?

So sang Paul McCartney. Here at Owen Hodge, we think that 64 is the new 44, but either way, financial abuse of the elderly doesn’t have a defined age attached to it.

Generally speaking, the evidence points to victims being from that age onwards. As age progresses, so too can: mental frailty, lack of mobility, lack of independent living, inability to deal with online banking, feelings of loneliness, and significantly, dependence on others. Likewise, we know of many examples of people in their nineties and beyond who are as sharp as a tack. There is no defined normal.

The only common denominator is that a person of advancing years, has, in whatever circumstances, placed far too much trust in someone – someone who eventually abused that trust and took advantage by financial manipulation.


The warning signs

The warning signs are as varied as the circumstances, but may include:

  • Misplaced credit cards
  • Cards lent to someone to do some shopping for me
  • Regular bills or accounts going unpaid
  • Unexpected bank activity, including unusual withdrawals
  • The reporting of unanticipated forms being signed
  • The appearance of a new best friend, who seems to be inappropriately interested in personal details
  • Personal items of value going missing
  • ATM withdrawals that the elderly person could not possibly have made in light of location or timing


What can be done?

Some elderly people have great difficulty dealing with the plethora of passwords and PIN numbers required these days. Such details when written in a notebook, or indeed, on the card itself, make for extreme vulnerability. It is vital that a manageable but secure system is put in place.

A Power of Attorney, and possibly an Enduring Guardianship, should be established while faculties allow clear decisions to be made. Those entrusted with these responsibilities hold enormous power, and should be chosen with care, and updated if necessary. This person might be a family member, a friend, or your lawyer.

Unusual or suspicious financial behaviour should be noted, investigated, and reported. Obtaining financial advantage by deception is, after all, a crime.


Power of Attorney – Enduring Guardianship: talk to us. It will be easier with sound legal advice from the experts. Owen Hodge Lawyers. We are here to help.


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