Financial abuse and signs to spot it

The under-reported issue disproportionately affects women and the elderly.

Matthaeus Choo

Published: 5 July 2022, 4:24 PM

Domestic abuse isn’t only limited to physical and verbal abuse — financial abuse is just as vicious to one’s mental health and well-being. 

However, as it is less commonly known and recognised, and typically involves families and relationships, cases of financial abuse are often left unreported. Financial abuse is a crime that leaves no physical scars or signs, and it is often up to us to be vigilant amongst friends and family in taking efforts to protect the abused.

Financial abusers are anyone, including partners, family members and carers, who control someone else’s finances without their consent or knowledge. 

It’s a common tactic of abusers to gain leverage and control over someone else, often accompanied by emotional blackmail and gaslighting. Those particularly vulnerable to financial abuse include women and the elderly, with a majority of abusers being men. 

An American study in 2017 found that almost 60 per cent of 2,000 millennials surveyed had a romantic partner who used money to manipulate or gain power and control in a relationship. 

However, some in relationships, while tangled up in emotions, may not recognise that they are abused. They may trust their partners or spouses to have complete control over their finances while themselves having little to no access. They may be guilt-tripped by their partners to buy expensive products or lend them money with no repayment date in sight.

Despite the respect of elders being a deeply entrenched value in Asian societies, news of elderly mistreatment is still common. In 2016, the Straits Times reported an alarming increase in financial abuse cases amongst senior citizens. In 2019, the Ministry of Social and Family Development shared that elderly abuse cases doubled between 2016 to 2018. 

Cases detail shocking instances of the elderly seeing their finances controlled and siphoned by their children without their consent, and of elderlies tricked or coerced into signing unfavourable deeds or wills. 

Digitalisation has further stacked the deck against the elderly, where children may exploit their parents’ lack of knowledge to take hold of their bank accounts.


The Vulnerable Adults Act, enacted in 2018, protects vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect, though there are concerns about the lack of coverage of financial abuse. PHOTO CREDIT: ROD LONG VIA UNSPLASH


As both reports detail, cases of elderly abuse are often left unreported. The elderly may feel ashamed, seeing their situation as a consequence of having unfilial children, and would rather suffer in silence. Instead, social workers and healthcare personnel tend to be the first to detect the signs of abuse.

Similarly, everyone has a part to play in protecting the vulnerable. Financial abuse can be hard to understand and even harder for victims to explain their situations. If you suspect that your friend or a family member is a victim, be aware that they might not think that they are in an abusive relationship. Share your concerns with patience and understanding. It takes immense courage to leave an abusive relationship, and they will need all the help they can get to get back on their feet.

Set up in 2021, the National Anti-Violence Helpline (NAVH) is a 24-hour hotline that aims to support those suffering from abuse and neglect. Call 1800-777-0000 to report suspected cases or make general enquiries.

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