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What Are the Signs of Financial Abuse?

Withholding access to a checkbook can be a sign of financial abuse.
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  • Written By: Lori Spencer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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Financial abuse is classified as a form of domestic violence. Although most typically used to describe the control, domination, neglect or harm of a family member or intimate partner, financial abuse can also be perpetrated by caregivers, legal guardians and other individuals empowered to make monetary decisions for another person. The signs of financial abuse might include sudden, uncharacteristic changes in banking or credit accounts, such as new signatories being added to a victim's accounts, or large transactions, withdrawals or checks written to the victim, spouse, guardian or caregiver. Any substantial transfer of assets or changes in the victim's insurance policies, will or other financial documents should also be examined carefully by a qualified, neutral third party to check for potential financial abuse.

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Other "red flags" of financial abuse include withholding access to money, credit cards, checkbooks or other assets; giving the victim a fixed allowance and/or making him or her account for every dime spent; sabotaging the victim's car or job; or preventing the victim from working outside the home or in the career field of their choice. The signs of financial abuse might also include utility disconnection or eviction notices despite the financial capability to pay bills and missing valuables such as jewelry, art, antiques or family heirlooms. The abuser's objective is ultimately to isolate the victim into a position of total financial dependence. Financial abusers are quite often charming and persuasive, able to convince their victims — and even the victim's closest friends and family members — that they are acting out of love or concern for the victim. By cutting off the intended victim's access to money, personal freedom and choice, the abuser thus controls the victim.

Financial abuse is often accompanied by psychological and emotional abuse, sometimes leading to physical abuse. Neglect of the victim's basic needs — food, sanitary shelter, medications and clothing — is frequently evident in cases of financial abuse. This type of abuse is found across all age ranges, economic, ethnic and educational backgrounds.

Concerned loved ones are encouraged to be wary of any new acquaintances or long-lost relatives who suddenly take up residence with the victim — especially if property or other assets are deeded in exchange for care are involved. Financially abusive spouses, intimate partners and caregivers commonly attempt to isolate the victim from friends, family, neighbors and other potential witnesses who could ultimately discover the evidence of financial abuse. To protect a vulnerable elder, one should always ensure that signatures on all checks, legal and financial documents are in fact the person's actual signature. One must be alert when checks from government programs or pension funds go missing, especially if it happens more than once. Other warning signs of elder financial abuse are redirection of important mail to another person's address, sudden unexplained transfers of property or creation of power of attorney documents when the elder lacks the capacity to make such decisions.

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