Pandemic a perfect storm for elder abuse

COVID-19 has brought on a tidal wave of elder abuse as greedy children with ‘inheritance entitlement’ raid parents’ savings during the pandemic recession.

Australian Banking Association (ABA) chief Anna Bligh has warned of the increase in elder abuse as struggling children demand financial bailouts from retired parents.

Ms Bligh said banks in Queensland were now informing the Office of the Public Guardian of any suspicious transactions that could be construed as financial elder abuse.

“Banks have identified that an account is being used in a way that’s suspicious, and they’ve turned up at houses literally to find elderly people chained to a bed or sleeping in a shed outside,’’ she told The Sunday Mail.

“It’s inheritance entitlement – some people feel ‘the money’s mine’.

“Older Australians have saved all their lives to prepare for retirement, and adult children take advantage of that.

“This means people can be living their old age in desperate circumstances.”

The former Queensland premier said state and territory governments need to create a national register of powers of attorney so banks can check who should have legal access to customers’ accounts.

In November 2019, the Council of Attorneys-General called on federal and state governments to create a mandatory national online register to combat elder financial abuse.

At the time, Ms Bligh said the register would make it easier to pick up financial elder abuse when it occurred.

“A mandatory national online register will help bank staff check to ensure a power of attorney is valid and up to date when a customer comes into a branch to complete transactions on someone else’s behalf,” she said.

Her stance has not changed today.

“Banks have no way of checking if a power of attorney is current or fraudulent,”  she said.

“We want the laws changed.

“Bank staff are at the frontline of financial abuse – they’re the ones who see their elderly customers in branches being pressured to withdraw money, and who see unusual transactions in the account.

“They’ve got a customer in her 90s, very frail, and see activity in the bank account at a luxury ski resort in northern Europe, or they’ve bought a boat or a giant motorbike.

“All the banks can do is go to the police, but most people don’t want to report their adult children to the police.”

Increased isolation caused by the lockdown, coupled with the financial pressures put on children who may be powers of attorney or have access to older parents’ financials make the COVID crisis a perfect storm for increased elder abuse, say State Trustees.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the abuse, both financial and physical, that these vulnerable older Queenslanders are subject to, especially as the perpetrators are all too often their own children,’’ Shayna Smith, from the Queensland Office of the Public Guardian, told the Herald Sun.

“Unfortunately that’s even more true during the current pandemic situation.

“The health restrictions mean we might not be seeing our older Queenslanders out and about in the community so much.

“The current economic conditions and associated financial pressures mean the risk of older people being financially exploited or abused by family members is heightened.”

Ms Bligh said financial elder abuse cases are most often attributed to the greedy preying on the most vulnerable, those who “trust their loved ones, who sometimes turn out to be untrustworthy”. She says we are likely to see more of these cases during the COVID-19 crisis.

“In times of economic crisis, you’re more likely to see financial abuse of vulnerable people,” she said.

“So many people are under financial pressure. And when people are financially desperate they will too often try to resolve that at the expense of those who trust and love them … enough to let them sign something on their behalf.”

Do you know of anyone who has been abused during the pandemic? Have you felt undue pressure to bail out family members?

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