The Elder Abuse Prevention Centre, based in Queensland, defines elder financial abuse (EFA) as the illegal or improper use of a person’s finances or property by another person with whom they have a relationship implying trust.

This is the most common type of elder abuse, with studies in Australia indicating that up to five per cent of people aged 65 and older experience elder abuse. Almost half of this abuse is financial, according to a 2009 review of the evidence conducted by Monash University.

Women are more likely to be victims, apart from the fact that they live longer than men. Sons are more likely to be perpetrators.

In the case of Cirillo v Mainieri & Anor, Cirillo had sold her home and contributed the proceeds of the sale towards her son Frank’s mortgage. In turn, Frank agreed that Rita could live with him indefinitely and that he would take care of her. When the relationship broke down, Rita was left to live in an aged care facility. Her son claimed that the money was a gift and that he had no obligation to repay it.

There have been people who have worked all their lives suddenly lose their home at 80 and 90 years of age, not realising that the paper they signed to guarantee a child’s business was a transfer of title. Children have been known to pressure their parents into transactions, using threats to deny access to grandchildren or to place the older person in a home. 

Much financial abuse, however, takes place away from the obvious extremes, in shadowy grey zones where ethics become clouded by self-interest and opportunity. A child who has been given a parent’s PIN number, for example, starts buying personal items justifying this as a reward for services.

A sense of entitlement can also muddy one’s moral compass: “It’s going to be my inheritance anyway so what does it matter if I get it sooner?” Throw some inter-generational resentment into the mix about the “lucky generation” that enjoyed free education, good job opportunities and affordable housing, and the right to claim a piece of your parent’s pie seems entirely justifiable.

By 2055, 25 per cent of the Australian population will be over 65, according to the 2015 Intergenerational Report of the Australian Government. A staggering 40,000 Australians will be over the age of 100. As people live longer, they become more vulnerable due to conditions such as dementia, which is being diagnosed at a rate of 1800 new cases each week, according to Alzeimers Australia.

This trend worries advocates of seniors’ rights. When an asset-rich group of people declines in function, chances are that more children will act according to the law of the jungle, which is to prey on the vulnerable.

Generally no matter how old, parents want to take care of and look after their children. This is what gets abused, fuelled by ageism, which disregards older people’s needs and wants – that they might want to use their money for a holiday, or need it later in life for their health care.”

10 Signs of Financial Abuse

The following are signs of elderly abuse to look out for – not only in other people’s actions, but maybe even your own – be aware!

  • Promises of “good care” in exchange for transferring property or money to a carer
  • Fear, stress and anxiety expressed by the older person
  • Unfamiliar or new signatures on cheques and documents
  • Inability of an older person to access bank accounts or statements
  • Significant, unexplained withdrawals from accounts
  • Transfer of assets when the person is no longer competent to manage their own financial affairs
  • Accounts suddenly switched to another financial institution or branch
  • Drastic changes in the types of banking activities, or to a will
  • Valuable assets, such as cars, jewellery or artwork going missing
  • Signs of physical or psychological abuse of the older person.