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Protecting Yourself Against Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, health status, or living arrangements.

Abusers tend to target those in certain circumstances, such as the elderly, people with a disability, mental illness, and/or other health condition, and/or people who are socially isolated.

You may wish to call the South Australian Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line on 1800 372 310. This service is provided by SA Health. Trained staff will provide you with free, confidential, culturally sensitive advice Monday to Friday.

Financial abuse takes many different forms, and may include when someone:

  • Uses your money, credit cards, bank cards, and /or other valuables without your consent. This includes accessing your account/s without your permission. It may also be abuse if the person claims they were only borrowing from you but you did not give them permission to do so.
  • Forges your signature to access your money, property, and/or other resources.
  • Threatens or pressures you to give them money or property.
  • Insists that you mortgage your home.
  • Insists that you invest in a particular scheme.
  • Pressures you to agree to unnecessary home or garden maintenance and/or overcharges for such services (including pressure directly from a tradesperson).
  • Coerces you into providing services (such as the care of another person) without appropriate pay or fair compensation.
  • Pressures you to make unfair payments toward their expenses (e.g., someone shares a home with you and doesn’t contribute to rent, bills, maintenance, and/or other expenses).
  • Pressures, misleads, and/or threatens you to make changes to your Will, Power of Attorney, and/or other legal arrangements that you do not want to make.

A financial abuser is anyone who manipulates, threatens, pressures, or in any other way insists that you give them access to your money, property, and/or other valuables, and/or accesses your financial resources without your consent.

The person could be someone you barely know, or it could be someone you have known for years. They could be a family member, old friend, recently made friend, and/or an acquaintance.

While there is no need to be suspicious of everyone around you, as most people will not financially abuse you, it is a good idea to be aware of the signs that you might be at risk of financial abuse.

Financial abuse can be difficult to recognise. Some of the signs that you may be at risk of financial abuse include:

  • A person is making financial decisions for you but fails to make sure you understand what those decisions are and what they mean for you.
  • Being contacted by people who ask you for money, including people who claim to be from charities that may be familiar to you.
  • There is unusual activity in your bank account and/or money seems to be disappearing from your account/s and you don’t know where it has gone.
  • Your bills are defaulting.
  • Your documents, credit cards, bank cards, and/or personal belongings are going missing.
  • Your savings account/s are overdrawn and/or depleted.
  • You are asked to sign forms to transfer your real estate (your home) into another person’s name.
  • You are asked to sign loan documents to take a reverse mortgage out on your home.
  • You are being advised to make changes to a Will, Power of Attorney, and/or other legal documents and you don’t understand why the changes should be made.

There are many precautions you can take to protect yourself from financial abuse.

Some of these include:

  • Ensuring you are aware of and follow the advice of your bank on how to keep your bank details secure.
  • Keeping important documents, such as the Certificate of Title for your home, in a safe place. A document safe custody (safety deposit box) at a bank is ideal.
  • Not keeping large sums of cash at home or in your handbag, purse, or wallet.
  • Not signing any documents unless you clearly understand, and accept, the conditions and implications of what you are being asked to sign.
  • Checking the credentials of anyone who knocks on your door and asks to come inside. If you do not feel comfortable letting a person into your home then you do not have to, even if their credentials seem genuine.
  • Contacting your bank straight away if you notice any unusual activity in your bank account/s statements.
  • Trusting your own instincts. If what you are being asked to do doesn’t feel right to you then don’t take any action, regardless of the assurances the person may be giving you, until you can speak to someone you trust.
  • Consulting a trusted family member, friend, and/or advisor about any financial decisions that you are being asked to make and you don’t feel comfortable about.
  • Not giving any financial details to someone who has called you over the telephone, even if they claim to be from a charity you have heard of. If you would like to donate to the charity that the caller tells you about, then hang up, check to make sure they are a genuine charity (by visiting the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission), and contact the charity directly to make a donation if you still would like to.

If you are a protected person, or the person you believe is at risk of financial abuse is a customer of the Public Trustee, then contact us in the first instance.

Public Trustee
Ph: (08) 8226 9200 or 1800 673 119 (Toll Free)

You can also contact the following organisations for information and/or assistance regarding suspected financial abuse.

Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS)
Ph: (08) 8232 5377 or 1800 700 600 (Toll Free)

Legal Services Commission (LSC)
Ph: 1300 366 424 (Legal Help Line, Monday to Friday 9.00am–4.30pm)
Ph: (08) 8463 3555 for Adelaide appointments. Other offices located at Elizabeth, Holden Hill, Mount Barker, Noarlunga, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and Whyalla.

Office of the Public Advocate (OPA)
Ph: (08) 8342 8200 or 1800 066 969 (Toll Free)

South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT)
Ph: (08)8368 5600 or 1800 800 501 (SA Country only)

South Australia Police (SAPOL)
Ph: 131 444 (to report a crime or for police assistance)
Ph: 000 (for emergencies)

Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (APEA)

An alliance of five SA agencies has created a new video to give an overview of free services that are available to address elder abuse.

The video provides practical information to protect people’s physical, emotional, mental and financial wellbeing. It informs older South Australians, as well as their families and carers, about services relating to Wills, home security, Advance Care Directives, guardianship, legal help and other assistance for older people.

The video was made by the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. The Alliance includes the following agencies: Public Trustee, the Office of the Public Advocate, SA Police, the Legal Services Commission, and the Aged Rights Advocacy Service.

Public Trustee is proud to be part of the alliance and to be able to share this video to ensure it reaches as many South Australians as possible.

To see the whole video and to access free services for older South Australians, visit www.apea.org.au