Financial abuse: What to Do if You're a Victim

Financial abuse is common among older adults and in dysfunctional couples. Learn more about financial abuse, the common signs, and what you can do to get help in this article.
Financial abuse: What to Do if You're a Victim

Last update: 26 October, 2021

The term “abuse” is often used to describe physical, verbal, or domestic assaults. However, financial abuse is common in people who are in unhealthy relationships or the case vulnerable people, such as the elderly.

A study by The Center for Financial Security revealed that people with abusive partners often face threats to their financial well-being and ability to find personal financial stability. What can you do if you’re a victim?

Find out in this article.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse consists of controlling the victim’s ability to maintain, use, and acquire capital, finances, or assets. One of the characteristics of the abuser is that they tend to restrict or steal the victim’s own money, which prevents the victim from having full access to money or other resources.

The methods of carrying out this form of abuse may be different in each situation. However, there are cases where the abuser uses manipulation to get money. It can even be open, intimidating, and demanding, to the point of preventing the victim from working.

Financial abuse in the elderly

When it comes to the elderly, a study shared in the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed that financial abuse is often carried out by a family member, neighbor, trusted friend, or caregiver.

In short, it is someone close to the victim who finds it easy to deceive them. Now, to detect if an older adult is being violated in this way, the following must be considered.

The elderly person suffers from memory loss

In general, elderly people tend not to remember relevant matters. Thus, special care must be taken when they don’t remember withdrawing a certain amount of money from the bank.

Although dementia may be a problem, the possibility that someone is taking advantage of an elder person’s situation is high. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that someone hasn’t made any unauthorized transactions.

They have decreased motor skills

Older adults may not only suffer from dementia – a disease that makes them vulnerable to financial abuse – but their strength and mobility are also often reduced. This creates the need for them to ask for help from a person close to them, which increases the chances that predators will take advantage of their situation.

Dishonest relatives

Unfortunately, close family members are the most tempted to take advantage of the older adult’s financial resources at home. They’re closer to their bank accounts, passwords, and financial statements. Therefore, they’re easier to steal and even manipulate.

One way to know if this is happening is to observe the behavior of the family member. If s/he acquires or buys things more easily than they used to, it’s a sign they may be abusing an elderly family member.


Lonely older people are often the victims of unscrupulous people. They may try to create a false sense of friendship and then get at their money or property. If this sounds familiar, keep an eye on new friends to avoid abuse.

Financial abuse in relationships

In this case, one of the members imposes themselves on the other and forces them to grant them the management of their economic resources, either by manipulation or obligation. This is financial abuse.

Overall, some characteristics that involve financial abuse in couples are the following:

  • Full control of all bank accounts and other financial resources
  • Manipulation
  • Imposition
  • Coercion of the partner to look for work or a source of money
  • Psychological, physical, or verbal aggression
  • Accountability of every penny that is spent by the victim

How do I know if I’m a victim?

You may be a victim of financial abuse right now but haven’t realized it. To find out, think about whether one of these situations pertains to you. If you’re not sure, check with a trusted friend or relative for help.

  • Your partner doesn’t allow you to look at shared bank statements.
  • They have an account that only he or she can access (but you don’t).
  • Your partner has total control of your expenses or manages the allowance that they give you. They may even require you to pay bills.
  • They forbid you from working, tries to make you resign, or is the one who says which job you should take, without taking your opinion into account.
  • Your partner buys and spends your money without considering your needs.
  • They dispose of your shared savings without your consent.
  • They don’t want to generate income.
  • Your partner shows little interest in covering part of the shared expenses, such as clothes, medicines, food, among other things.
  • They resort to manipulations and tend to blame you for financial problems.
  • Your partner likes to attack your frequently, either physically or psychologically.
  • They believe they have the full right to your money and assets.
  • Your partner forces you to sign financial documents without a reasonable explanation.
  • They threaten to cut your income if you don’t agree with their options.
  • They refuse to contribute to child support.
  • Your partner harasses you at work, calls you, writes you with an exaggerated frequency, or passes by the place surprisingly and suspiciously.
  • They destroy your credit history, consuming your cards to the limit.
  • They don’t pay the bills.

What can I do if I’m a victim of financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a situation that doesn’t get better over time, so waiting for it to resolve itself in the future isn’t recommended.

Try to seek support and contact the government entity in your country. Finding an ally, a counselor, or visiting a psychologist is the best way to cope with the problem in which you are immersed. Your country may have a telephone line where these types of cases are attended; try to call as soon as possible. Having the assistance of trained advocates is the best option.

What to remember about financial abuse

The term may be rare, however, in unhealthy relationships, it’s common for one of the parties to be the victim of financial abuse. The abuser has full control of the assets and may use manipulation or aggression to maintain control.

Each situation may vary. However, they all have an end goal, such as stealing or taking part or all of the victim’s income and assets. Older adults could be the most vulnerable, as they take advantage of their blackouts, motor deficiencies, or loneliness.

If you think you’re a victim of financial abuse, or suspect elderly you know might be, report it to the competent authorities and get professional help. Prolonging this situation will only make it worse.

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  • Adams, A. E. (2011). Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Financial Well-Being. The Center for Financial Security, 5-6.
  • Hafemeister TL. Financial Abuse of the Elderly in Domestic Setting. In: National Research Council (US) Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect; Bonnie RJ, Wallace RB, editors. Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2003. 13. Available from: