Financial abuse of elderly 'common'

By Anne-Marie Emerson of the Wanganui Chronicle -
Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Financial abuse is the major form of abuse against elderly people in New Zealand, according to Age Concern.

And it's this issue Age Concern wants to raise awareness of during its World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on June 15, which this year has the theme of "always respected, never abused".

Staff and volunteers at the Wanganui office yesterday dressed up in purple and decorated their office purple to mark the day, which is celebrated internationally.

Wanganui Age Concern manager Tracy Lynn said while elderly people could suffer any form of abuse, in New Zealand - including Wanganui - some form of financial abuse was the most likely.

This could be anything from being scammed, defrauded, taken advantage of, or having money misappropriated.

Ms Lynn said the Wanganui office alone dealt with around 12 cases a month where an elderly person had been financially abused.

"Unfortunately, it is usually a family member who carries out the abuse - the most common form is the misuse of enduring power of attorney. It could happen to anyone, anywhere."

Ms Lynn said the organisation's elder abuse social worker had been "running" to keep up with her caseload.

She said they had several cases of elderly people having their bank accounts drained of tens of thousands of dollars.

"The money has never been recovered. For these people they can't recoup that money because they're too old to resume work. And in a lot of cases it's everything they had," she said.

"They end up living in a one-bedroom flat somewhere trying to manage the rent and looking after themselves," she said.

"There's a huge number out there that we're not getting to and that's frightening." Ms Lynn said those were at the extreme end of the abuse scale but it continued to happen.

"People need to understand that it's not happening somewhere else. It's happening right here in Wanganui."

Ms Lynn said referrals to Age Concern could come from anyone - the victim, a family member, a neighbour, or even a bank.

She said it was a very sensitive issue that needed to be handled carefully.

"You cannot simply charge up to someone and accuse them of stealing their relative's money," she said.

Ms Lynn said the organisation had come across several disturbing cases where a carer was paid to take care of an elderly person - but was also asking for money from the elderly person.

"This is dishonest in the extreme."

Ms Lynn said elder abuse awareness day was also a major fundraising operation for the organisation.

To make an instant $20 donation to Age Concern, call 0900 333 001.

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