When people talk about bullying, they often concern themselves with physical and emotional forms of abuse. Financial abuse isn’t discussed too often, but it has become of the fastest growing types of bullying in the United States. Perpetrators of this kind of abuse, however, do a lot more damage than simply stealing lunch money. Financial abuse can wipe out the life savings of its victims, and cause years of financial hardships. Typically, this type of bullying counts the elderly, children and vulnerable populations among its victims.
The elderly are typically the most likely group to suffer financial abuse. A typical case usually involves an elderly person who relies on a professional, friend or family member for care. Abuse usually starts off small and might seem relatively benign to someone who was not familiar with the situation. For example, a person might only agree to drive Grandma to the store if Grandma provides the money for gas. Over time, however, the abuser works to separate the victim from those who care about him or her. This might take the form of a caregiver discouraging visits or phone calls from family members.
As soon as no one is around to look at what’s happening, the abuser can really do some damage to both the victim and his or her bank accounts. Because the elderly victim is often dependent on the bully for his or her healthcare and all social interaction, it’s easy for the abuser to start demanding or taking money.
In the most severe cases, the victim signs legal documents giving the abuser the ability to access and withdraw money from bank accounts, sell personal property, and conduct other financial transactions. Many times the victim signs these documents under the belief that the abuser/caregiver will only be managing things temporarily. Depending on the mental and physical state of the victim, the abuser will often start the process of draining accounts almost immediately after getting these documents signed.
Abusers do not need to have legal documents in order to steal from their victims, however. In some cases, the abusers simply take whatever they can from victims who are too powerless to do anything about it. There have been documented cases of children and grandchildren stealing from elderly relatives for years. In addition, there have been numerous police reports filed on behalf of elderly victims when relatives discover that hired caretakers have been stealing spare cash, jewelry and other items from the home of the person they were being paid to take care of.
Children and Young Adults
While the elderly are the largest group of victims of financial abuse, children and young adults are one of the fastest growing groups. Sadly, this group is often victimized by their parents or other older relatives. Since children rarely have any hard assets to take, most financial abuse of people in this group takes the form of fraud.
Specifically, bullies target children for financial abuse because they have clean credit histories. While most adults have credit reports with at least a few minor blemishes, children rarely have anything on their credit histories. Furthermore, they rarely check their own credit histories, making them prime targets for financial abuse.
A typical case starts with a close relative gaining access to the child’s credit history by getting a hold of their personal information. Because parents and other caregivers are legally allowed to control the financial affairs of their children, it does not raise any suspicion when they use their Social Security numbers to start opening lines of credit and taking out loans. When these loans are not paid back, the child’ credit score is ruined. Unfortunately, the abuse is often not discovered for many years. In some cases, the child only discovers the problem once he or she becomes an adult and tries to apply for credit on their own.
In the most extreme cases, children are told that they have to stay at home as they become adults because the abuser needs to have control over the victim in order to keep exploiting them. Because of this, there have been cases in which young adults have reported their abusers destroying documentation such as birth certificates in order to make it difficult for the victim to leave the abuser.
There are also a small but growing number of cases in which young adults are bullied by family members or friends into co-signing for loans or taking on these obligations themselves on behalf of the abuser. Unfortunately, there is very little that law enforcement can do in these cases because the abuser has not broken a law.
If you know of a child who might be suffering from financial abuse, the best thing to do is to contact law enforcement. While not every state has laws against this, often the threat of legal action is enough to make an abuser re-think his or her actions.
Mentally and physically challenged people are another common group of victims of financial abuse. Members of this group are often fully or partially reliant on others for some or all of their care. In many cases, these caregivers have some kind of access to the bank accounts and other financial assets of the victim.
Because the victim is often physically or mentally incapable of looking after their own financial affairs,abuse can go for years before it is detected. In many cases, the abuse is only discovered after a major medical incident. In a typical case, the abuser takes the wages, legal settlement, and/or government benefit checks of the victim. In these instances, the victim is often left without food, clothing, or other necessary items while the abuser spends the money. In the most extreme cases, the abuser will force the victim to go without medical care or cause physical harm tot he victim in order to continue to collect money.
Because the potential for abuse is so high among this population, it is often recommended that multiple caregivers be assigned to someone who is not capable of handling his or her own financial affairs. In order to prevent this type of abuse, make sure that there are frequent reviews of the accounts of a person who cannot review them by his or herself.
Financial abuse is a growing problem, but there are ways to protect yourself and the ones you love. The best way to make sure that you are safe is to keep connections with a lot of family and friends. The more people who are able to look after you or your loved ones, the less opportunity a bully will have to abuse or take advantage of you.