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Financial Abuse: What is it and How to See the Signs

June 28, 2024
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Like most forms of abuse, financial abuse is something no one thinks will happen to them. While the signs can be obvious in hindsight, they’re often a lot more subtle and can happen over a long period without you realising. 

While this is a sensitive topic, it’s a crucial one to understand. For your safety, if you need to quickly close this tab, use the following keyboard shortcuts:

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What is financial abuse? 

Financial abuse is the use of economic resources to control or hold power over another person. It can also be the misuse of another person for financial gain and is considered a form of domestic violence.

Typically, financial abuse occurs between partners or other family members. It can be present with other forms of abuse, like physical or emotional abuse, but it can also be present without these other behaviours.

Who is most at risk?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women are almost twice as likely to experience financial abuse in comparison to men with 15.7% of women in all age groups having experienced some form of financial abuse. 

Additionally, younger people, Indigenous Australians and new migrants are more likely to be affected. 

A 2023 report by the Commonwealth Bank revealed that in the three years since they launched a program to help those experiencing financial abuse, case numbers have increased, with two in five Australians (42 per cent) being impacted directly or indirectly.

How to tell if you’re being financially abused

There are lots of different ways financial abuse can occur. 

We’ve listed some of the most common situations victim-survivors who experienced financial abuse report:

  • Being pressured to give up money
  • Being kept from work or seeking employment
  • Experiencing employment sabotage
  • Not having access to personal or joint accounts
  • Being uninformed about password and login changes
  • Not having input on expenditures
  • Being scolded for small spending
  • Having to ask for money for basic needs
  • Not being listed as an owner on the legal paperwork for assets
  • Working excessively to cover a partner’s expenditures or lifestyle
  • Feeling unworthy or incapable of financial decisions
  • Valuables or funds go missing
  • Increasing debt 
  • Unauthorised loans or credit cards appear under your name
  • Being asked to share financial or identity information early in the relationship
  • Financial information sharing is one-sided
  • Forcing them to work for their business without payment

Signs of a financially abusive person  

If you suspect your partner or family member may be financially abusing you or someone else you know and love, here are some of the behaviours an abuser may demonstrate:

  • They control access to money
  • They use your or someone else’s money without their knowledge or consent 
  • They sign legal documents
  • They threaten or punish you or the individual you suspect they’re abusing
  • They distance you from your loved ones

How to tell if a friend or family member is being financially abused

If you suspect that a loved one or friend may be experiencing financial abuse, there are some common signs you can look out for, including:

  • Their partner limits employment options, even forbidding particular types of employment or working with other people.
  • Their partner forbids study or the opportunity for your friend to better themselves.
  • Their partner withholds money or only provides your friend a small allowance.
  • Basic living resources including medication and food are withheld.
  • Your friend’s purchases are monitored extremely closely, including checking receipts.
  • Your friend is experiencing ‘period poverty’, which means women with no access to sanitary products are forced to stay home.
  • Their partner threatens to cut off financial support if your friend doesn’t meet all demands.
  • Their partner hides money from your friend.
  • Their partner does not allow your friend to have a bank account. 
  • Their partner racks up debts in your friend’s name.

Impacts of financial abuse 

The impact of financial abuse can have both short and long-term impacts on both the victim-survivor and their loved ones. Those directly experiencing the abuse may experience:

  • A loss of confidence and procrastination when it comes to managing their own money 
  • Guilt around money
  • A desire to rebel and spend money because it’s been restricted 
  • An urge to hide spending from future partners
  • Challenges with obtaining finance or making future purchases if their abuser obtained debt in their name

These things aside, those who suffer from financial abuse are more likely to struggle with their mental health and feelings of low self-worth. Like any form of abuse, those who have been abused may need professional help to navigate the situation.

How to avoid financial abuse

While we want to share some recommendations that may help people avoid financial abuse, we want to preface this by saying that in no circumstance is financial abuse ever the fault of the individual who has been abused. Perpetrators are often manipulative, narcissistic, and experienced individuals who know what they’re doing and while there may be potential warning signs you can look out for, it’s not always easy to recognise these for what they are in the context of your relationship. 

What you can do if you suspect you’re being abused is to set boundaries around the value of your relationship, establish open communication, create financial boundaries and compromise, and if possible, create distance between love and money. 

You may also want to consider:

  • Freezing credit lines
  • Stop paying for someone else’s debt
  • Keep all passwords private and in a safe location 
  • Seeking advice from an independent third party

Where to find support for financial abuse

If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, free and confidential help is available. 

We’ve provided a list of organisations that may be able to support you below.

If you require free legal advice, click here for a list of location-based resources. 

Help for families affected by relationship or separation issues Family Relationship Advice Line
1800 050 328am to 8pm, Monday to Friday
10am to 4pm, Saturday
Crisis support Lifeline
13 11 14
24 hours
Crisis Support Chat
Family violence, abuse, and sexual assault counselling 1800RESPECT
1800 737 732
24 hours
1800RESPECT Online Chat
Help if you’re struggling with debt National Debt Helpline
1800 007 007
9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday
Family counselling, mediation and dispute resolution services Relationships Australia
1300 364 277
Elder abuse victim support Compass
1800 ELDERHelp
1800 353 374
Note: this number redirects you to the phone line in your state or territory. Operating hours and services vary.
State and territory elder abuse victim resource centres My Aged Care
1800 200 422
8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm, Saturday
Advocacy and advice for older people Older Persons Advocacy Network
1800 700 600
8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday
Note: this number redirects you to the Older Persons Advocacy Network organisation in your state or territory.
Dementia information and support Dementia Australia
1800 100 500
9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday
Helpline webchat
Help to get back on your feet Good Shepherd Financial Independence Hub
1300 050 150
9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

How can the team at Inovayt support me? 

At Inovayt, the privacy and confidentiality of our clients is paramount. We understand that financial abuse is a sensitive topic and we work hard to foster a supportive, open space free from judgment. If you’d like to chat, get in touch with one of our team members today.

Want to chat with an Inovayt team member?


Start your journey, contact Inovayt today

Start your journey, contact Inovayt today

Start your journey, contact Inovayt today

Start your journey, contact Inovayt today