While banks have not reported an increase in the incidence of financial abuse as a result of family and elder abuse, welfare case workers says there is strong anecdotal evidence that such incidents are on the rise but are not being reported because of fear of embarrassment and to protect family members who might be the abusers.
PRONIA, a Melbourne welfare organisation that works within the Greek community, has dealt for a number of years with the issue of financial abuse within the community.
The organisation’s Aged and Co-ordinated Care Services Manager Nikki Efremidis told Neos Kosmos that it was difficult to resolve such issues as the victims preferred to suffer the abuse rather than to admit that there was a problem or to even recognise that there was a problem.
She said that there had been cases where because of aggressive behaviour, staff members called in the police but the victims would deny there were problems and protect abusers who, in most cases were the victim’s children or family members.
“The sons and daughters march them to the ATM to withdraw money and they have no idea how much money is been taken out of their account since they can’t use the ATM or read the statements,” Ms Efremidis said.
Abuse of the elderly victims’ finances also took place when they were convinced by their children or family members to open a joint bank account with them. Often the abuse took place because of the victim’s inability to understand or read English banking instructions, combined with the trust they bore for their children and family members so that they did not realise or would not accept that they were being exploited by them.
Ms Efremidis said that in most cases her staff could not intervene because the elderly were in “denial of the situation”.
“’When I die, I will be in peace (οταν πεθάνω θα ησυχάσω)’ is what they often say as they prefer to suffer and trust their children than taking any action against their abuse,” she said.
In an earlier interview, Delphi Bank’s National Community Engagement Manager Paul Orfanos said Australian bank staff were generally trained to notice changes in the way their elderly clients conducted their banking. Sudden changes were warning signs for bank staff as were shifts from personal banking to increased and unusual use of ATMs or online banking.
He said another indicator was when a client visited the bank and allowed a second person to do all the talking on their behalf while they stood by.
PRONIA’s Family and Relationships Manager Mary Sophou said that the Australian Banking Assocation’s recent updating of guidelines to protect against financial abuse was a good step forward, there were problems with the fact that much banking had become “contactless” so that the client did not need to go to a bank to make a transaction and this made it more difficult to identify financial abuse.
There is a different type of financial abuse when it comes to cases of domestic violence.
“In the cases of women and domestic violence, again the women will not approach the bank as in most cases they have no bank accounts or any access to money. As financial abuse is part of family violence, it is a very common type of abuse that we deal with daily through our case work,” Ms Sophou said.
“Usually women contact us after they reach a tipping point. We provide women with money and food vouchers as they have no money to feed their families. We also provide them with mobile phones to use in case of emergency and we draw a ‘safety plan’ so they know what to do when things escalate.”
“Our community is definitely aware of financial abuse being a big problem but a lot of it is hidden and it’s very hard to prove without the consent of the victim,” Ms Sophou said.