Jessica Latimer is a lawyer specialising in elder financial abuse at Moores and she sees a lot of cases that trouble her.
A recent case involved an elderly man who had jointly appointed power of attorneys. One attorney was withdrawing up to $80,000 cash per week from the client’s bank account dishonestly.
By the time it was identified by the other attorney, $1.8 million had been withdrawn and the client was living in a four person shared nursing home room because he could not afford to buy his way into a private room.
This type of elder financial abuse is becoming an increasing problem and it is not easy to spot. People who witness reds flags need to be alert of this abuse in families.
Behavioural red flags include signs of distress, confusion or lack of care, or tension in discussions around a third party.
Transactional red flags are things like activity in previously inactive accounts and increases in withdrawals and payouts.
These red flags are outlined in the Financial Services Council (FSC) latest guide for non-banking financial services businesses to identify, address and prevent the financial abuse of their older clients and customers.
Deborah O’Neill, Labor senator for New South Wales says: “Elder abuse will be one of the biggest challenges for our aging population and failure to tackle elder abuse will have a devastating impact on the future of our country.”
Latimer says trusted people often perpetrate elder financial abuse on their family members or friends but if that person is swapped for a stranger it would be known as theft.
The FSC defines elder financial abuse as any activity by an individual that seeks to use fraudulent, illegal, deceptive or otherwise improper acts or processes to advantage from the financial resources of an older or elderly individual.
The FSC says advantage can include personal profit or gain, enabling profit or gain for a relative, friend, spouse or business associate, or deprivation of the right of an older or elderly individual to access benefits, resources, belongings or assets for any reason.
Attorney-General Christian Porter estimates that as many as 185,000 older people experience some form of abuse or neglect nationally each year.
Brendan French, executive general manager, customer and community advocacy at Commonwealth Bank says when he started at the bank 12 years ago it was an occasional terrible story and now it is a lot more prevalent.
French says that his focus has been on preventing abuse as it is difficult to deal with after it has happened.
French says: “From our perspective one of the challenges we face is how to address that dynamic where often the person who is subject to elder abuse has no interest in it being a public matter and after the fact that it is almost impossible to rectify because people do not follow through.”
One reason for the increase in elder financial abuse is “inheritance impatience”; people are living longer and their adult children get sick of waiting for their inheritance.
Latimer says: “It might start off by paying a bill for them and paying a bill for me. Then it escalates into withdrawing some cash for them but withdrawing an extra $500 cash for me, and ultimately can result in the complete fleecing of a customer.”