Fear silences older victims, as one-in-seven commit financial abuse

15 June 2023

Bankwest’s Hidden Cost research into financial abuse has uncovered a startling awareness gap that shows about one-in-seven Western Australians are perpetrating abuse, and older people remaining silent out of fear.

The Hidden Costs survey canvassed more than 1000 WA adults and was commissioned by Bankwest to raise awareness of a covert epidemic impacting those in more vulnerable circumstances across the state.

Elder financial abuse occurs when money is used to gain power and control and, while it can be difficult to recognise, it can have profound impacts on the health, wellbeing, and independence of older people.

The data has been released to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is marked on 15 June each year to raise awareness of the physical, social, financial, psychological, and sexual abuse suffered by older people.

The theme for WEAAD 2023 is ‘Wise Up, Rise Up Against Elder Abuse’ and challenges people of all ages to educate themselves on the signs and impacts of elder abuse and take action to protect older people in their community.

Bankwest each year works alongside Council on the Ageing WA, Advocare WA, the Department of Communities, and other organisations to support the awareness campaign on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

The report reinforced the concern that a lack of understanding of financial abuse was a contributing factor and enabler to its prevalence, with a significant number of Western Australians unwittingly perpetrating the abuse.

Bankwest’s Hidden Costs revealed one-in-three (33%) Western Australians had experienced financial abuse, while a similar number (29%) knew someone else who had, with those 50 and older making up a third of victims (32.5%).

The data also highlighted a trend of older Australians having not sought help when experiencing financial abuse, with a quarter (23%) of those 65-and-older remaining silent and 70 per cent stating it would be hard to seek help.

The leading barriers for older Australians seeking support for financial abuse were around the consequences in doing so, with 74 per cent worried the perpetrator would find out, and 81 per cent fearing retaliation.

However, the research also uncovered that, despite two thirds (64%) of Western Australians feeling confident they could identify financial abuse, when presented with the definition, 15 per cent identified they were a perpetrator.

Of the one-in-seven committing financial abuse, more than half (53%) were unaware they were doing so.

Advocare Chief Executive Officer Louise Forster said: “Behaviours can start out insidious – such as someone using their caring commitments as justification for using their parent’s money to go shopping – but can easily escalate.

“We see many cases of family members financially abusing older relatives, often to the extent of homelessness and dispossession, and it’s important older people understand their rights and how to ensure they are exercised.

“Stigma, shame, and fear of retribution often prevent older people from speaking up, and that is one of the critical services Advocare delivers, providing a confidential and safe avenue through which older people can seek support.”

Bankwest Chief Operating Officer Louise Tovey said: “Bankwest has been part of the fabric of WA for more than 127 years, and we’re committed to supporting the communities in which we live and work.

“We believe it’s our responsibility to help raise awareness of – and stamp out – financial abuse a which is why initiatives such as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day are so important.

“Financial institutions can often be among the first contacted by someone experiencing this kind of abuse and our colleagues often witness first-hand the devastating effect it can have on people’s lives.

“Despite its prevalence, financial abuse can be difficult to recognise and, as the Hidden Costs Report has shown, a concerning number of Western Australians are perpetrating the abuse without even realising it.

“We want customers and the community to know we’re here to help, and we can support them in seeking information and support via Bankwest’s Financial Abuse Hub, which connects to services such as 1800RESPECT.”

About Bankwest
Bankwest’s vision is to be a simple, easy bank for the Australian homeowner of today and tomorrow, and our purpose is to build a brighter future for all. Bankwest provides personal and everyday banking solutions for customers across Australia. We support customers in doing their banking in the ways that suit them, with innovative digital solutions, an Australia-based 24/7 Contact Centre, a passionate broker community, and our WA branch network. Bankwest is a division of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124 AFSL/Australian credit license 234945. You should consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and whether the product is right for you. A PDS is available from bankwest.com.au.

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