Financial abuse is a form of mistreatment and fraud in which someone forcibly controls another person's money or other assets. It can involve, for instance, stealing cash, not allowing a victim to take part in any financial decisions or preventing a victim from having a job. The issue tends to occur most often in domestic relationships, such as between a husband and wife or an elderly parent and an adult child. People don't always recognize the problem, because an abuser purposely might select an isolated, vulnerable victim who is unlikely to realize what's happening or who will feel too ashamed to report it.
Cases Involving the Elderly
Elder financial abuse involves someone targeting an older adult, often a parent or other close relative, in the hope of being allowed access to his or her financial information. He might act as though he is simply helping manage the senior's finances, but instead, he takes the money for himself. This might be in the form of convincing an elderly person to sign legal financial documents or getting the victim to change the mailing address on bills and other records.
People who attempt to control and take money from the elderly have a variety of motives. Some might see individuals who are disabled or lonely as easy targets, because these people might be more likely to accept help and allow others to access their records and accounts. Adult children might feel they are entitled to their parents' wealth, especially if they are set to receive inheritances. Others select targets based on the desire for revenge for a poor relationship.
Financial abuse also can occur in marriages as a means to have control over a partner in order to make him feel hopeless enough to never leave. One partner might not allow the other to have access to any of the household money, or he might give only a small allowance. He might even confiscate the victim’s own paycheck or other means of personal funds. In some cases, a person might force a spouse to quit a job, or he might cause disruptions in the workplace to get the victim fired. Another potential instance is when one partner purposely accumulates large amounts of debt using joint checking or credit accounts.
Abuse of Children
Some people choose to financially hurt kids rather than an elderly individual or spouse. The majority of parents are legally able to handle money issues for their minor children, so these cases frequently go unreported. The motivation, similar to cases in marriages, is usually to keep the child from eventually leaving. The parent might willfully avoid teaching the child how to manage his funds, or he might take money the child and other relatives have set aside for things like college, having no intent to pay it back. He might lie about the stealing, saying he's investing it on the minor's behalf.
Another common issue is to take care of money-related issues but to purposely not discuss them with the child first. The parent usually says he's just trying to make things easier or be nice, but by beating the child to the financial punch, he is essentially controlling what a child acquires or does. When the child tries to assert more independence, the abuser makes him feel guilty, saying that he is unappreciative or ungrateful not only for the financial "help," but for everything else provided, too.
Sometimes, this type of mistreatment occurs between friends. Here, as in cases with the elderly, a person preys on the other individual's fear of loneliness or need for true help. He might say, for example, that he won't be friends or provide other assistance anymore without access to financial information, or that a true friend would loan him money. He also might conveniently "forget" his cash or credit cards when out, forcing the friend to pick up the tab and then never repaying him.
Being financially manipulated, either subtly or conspicuously, can result in serious monetary instability. Quality of living often suffers as a consequence. Many people feel embarrassed about the situation and don't get help, which just perpetuates the problem. They also often suffer from stress, either from the abuser's words or direct actions, or from the aftereffects of those circumstances, such as not being able to make a mortgage payment.
In some cases, the results of the problem can trickle down to others. If someone convinces a senior citizen to sign over his home, for example, that property can't be given as an inheritance. Loved ones might have to work at "cleaning up" the financial mess long after the control stops, and if courts need to get involved, this potentially can take years to complete. It also can require the individual who steps in to put some of his own money toward resolution, such as paying for an attorney.
A person might be experiencing financial manipulation if he appears withdrawn or depressed, or if his physical appearance and hygiene seems to be suffering. He might not make decisions about money with confidence on his own. Discrepancies or unusual transactions on bank records, sudden changes in feelings for a particular person, increased use of alcohol or other substances and the controlling individual often being around are all additional warning signs.
One of the simplest ways to prevent financial mistreatment is to stay involved in a circle of friends or social groups so that a network is available for help. People also can insist on opening their own mail and having access to all financial records. Modern technology reduces risk through options like direct deposit and automatic bill payments. Applying a rule of three is also a good idea — this means that, any time a person needs to discuss money, at least two other people participate in the conversation. An individual even can use strategies like digitally recording financial meetings so there is a record of what happened.
When a person suspects that someone else is being financially controlled, he should first contact local authorities, such as the victim's bank and the police department, as well as an attorney. These agencies will launch formal investigations and, if necessary, prosecute the offenders. Individuals also can make reports to other agencies, such as the National Center for Elder Abuse in the US. Regardless of how a person makes a report, a complaint usually has a better result if the filer has some documentation to support the claims.