What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of mistreatment and fraud in which someone forcibly controls another person's money or other assets. It may involve, for example, stealing money, not allowing the victim to participate in any financial decisions, or preventing the victim from having a job. The problem tends to occur more often in domestic relationships, such as between a husband and wife or an aging parent and an adult child. People don't always recognize the problem, because an abuser may deliberately select an isolated and vulnerable victim who is unlikely to notice what is happening or who will be too embarrassed to report it.

Cases involving elderly

Elderly financial abuse involves someone targeting an older adult, usually a parent or other close relative, in the hope that they will have access to their financial information. He could act like he's just helping to manage the veteran's finances, but instead he takes the money. This could include convincing an elderly person to sign legal financial documents or having the victim change the mailing address on accounts and other records.

People who try to control and take money from the elderly have a variety of motives. Disabled or lonely people may be seen by some as easy targets because these people are more likely to accept help and allow others to access their records and accounts. Adult children can feel entitled to their parents' wealth, especially if they are ready to inherit. Others select targets based on a desire for revenge for a bad relationship.

marriage manipulation

Financial abuse can also occur in marriages as a means of gaining control over a partner so that he feels desperate enough never to leave. One partner may not allow the other access to any of the family's funds, or may give only a small allowance. It could even seize the victim's paycheck or other means of personal funds. In some cases, a person may force a spouse to leave work or cause workplace disruptions to fire the victim. Another potential case is when a partner intentionally accumulates large amounts of debt using joint or credit accounts.

child abuse

Some people choose to financially harm their children rather than an older person or spouse. Most parents can legally deal with their minor children's financial problems, so these cases usually go unreported. The motivation, similar to marriage cases, is usually to prevent the child from finally leaving. The parent may voluntarily refrain from teaching the child how to manage their funds, or they may take money that the child and other family members have set aside for things like college, with no intention of giving it back. You can lie about the theft, saying you are investing on behalf of the minor.

Another common problem is dealing with money-related issues, but deliberately not discussing them with the child first. The parent will often say that they are just trying to make things easier or be nice, but by beating the child to the financial blow, they essentially control what the child acquires or does. When the child tries to assert more independence, the abuser makes him feel guilty and tells him he doesn't appreciate or devalue him not only for the financial "help", but also for everything he is provided.

Among friends

Sometimes this kind of abuse happens between friends. Here, as in the case of the elderly, the person takes advantage of the fear of the other's loneliness or the need for real help. You could say, for example, that you will no longer be a friend or provide other assistance without access to financial information, or that a true friend will lend you money. You can also conveniently "forget" your cash or credit cards when you're out, forcing your friend to pay the bill and never pay it back.


Being manipulated financially, whether subtly or overtly, can lead to serious monetary instability. Quality of life often suffers as a result. Many people are embarrassed by the situation and do not receive help, which simply perpetuates the problem. They also often experience stress, either from the abuser's direct words or actions, or the consequences of these circumstances, such as not being able to pay the mortgage.

In some cases, the results of the problem can reach others. If someone convinces an elderly person to give up his house, for example, that property cannot be passed on as an inheritance. Loved ones may have to work to "clean up" the financial mess long after control stops, and if the courts need to get involved, that can take years to complete. It may also require the intervening person to put some of their own money into the settlement, such as paying for a lawyer.

warning signs

A person may be experiencing financial manipulation if they appear withdrawn or depressed, or if their physical appearance and hygiene appear to be suffering. You may not confidently make money decisions on your own. Discrepancies or unusual transactions in bank records, sudden changes in a particular person's feelings, increased use of alcohol or other substances, and the individual control that is often close at hand are additional warning signs.


One of the simplest ways to avoid financial abuse is to stay involved in a circle of friends or social groups so that a network is available to help. People can also 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 every time one person needs to talk about money, at least two other people join the conversation. An individual can even use strategies like digitally recording financial meetings so that there is a record of what happened.


When a person suspects that another person is being financially controlled, they should first contact local authorities such as the victim's bank and police department, as well as a lawyer. These agencies will initiate formal investigations and, if necessary, prosecute violators. People can also report it to other agencies, such as the National Center for Elder Abuse in the United States. Regardless of how a person makes a complaint, a complaint usually has a better outcome if the applicant has some documentation to support the claims.

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