Financial Abuse – What to look out for

Financial abuse is a form of coercive control that falls within the context of domestic abuse. Financial abuse has a significant impact on the wider community and can have a negative effect across a lifespan.


Financial abuse is often a hidden problem in society. Financial abuse is when someone stops you from having access to, and control of, money. Financial abuse can be considered coercive control, and may fall within domestic abuse legislation. Financial abuse of the elderly and those who may have an intellectual disability is also a problem. Statistically, women are most likely to be victims of financial abuse. Financial abuse can lead to isolation and loss of independence, so being able to recognise the signs of financial abuse is a good first step in identifying the problem and reaching out for help. Some organisations can provide advice and support to victims of financial abuse.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is a type of coercive control and is considered a form of violence, in particular, a form of domestic violence when it’s done within the family. Financial abuse is when someone takes away your control and access to money. They can do this through theft, threats, violence, intimidation or humiliation. This can make people feel isolated, vulnerable and take away their independence.  

financial abuse
Financial Abuse can come in many different forms but it is often occurring in a toxic, abusive relationship

What are the different types of financial abuse?

There are different types of financial abuse, these include:

  • Keeping you from being involved in financial decisions
  • Withholding money from you
  • Controlling household spending
  • Stopping you from earning money
  • Not being allowed access to bank accounts, debit or credit cards
  • Not making Child Support payments
  • Forcing you to work in a family business without pay
  • Not contributing to household expenses

It’s important to note, that financial abuse is not necessarily about money. Within the context of domestic violence it may be a way of exercising control over someone so they are financially dependent and unable to leave the relationship.

Financial abuse is a crime in most parts of Australia, for example, in Western Australia, the law specifies that coercive control is unlawful if it unreasonably denies a person the financial autonomy they would have had, especially when they are financially reliant on that person.

Liz from shared her story as a victim of Financial Abuse in 2 different relationships in an article on her blog which you can read HERE, as well as in a podcast on MyMilennialMoney which you can listen to HERE.

What are indicators of financial abuse?

Money can cause tension in relationships at the best of times. While it’s one thing for a couple to equally agree to stick to a budget, it’s another thing to unreasonably withhold money from the other. Ideally, both partners should have equal input into financial decisions and be able to access financial resources.

The use of verbal abuse, threats or humiliation to restrict someone’s access to their money is also an indicator of financial abuse.  

Things to look for include:

  • Money missing from accounts
  • Possessions missing
  • Unexplained lack of money for the basics

Economic Abuse | Financial Abuse | Controlling Money | Financial Fairness (

financial abuse
One of the best ways to protect yourself against financial abuse is to have a full awareness of your own personal financial situation – all incomings and outgoings

What are the signs of a financially abusive person?

While financial abuse can happen in different ways, there are ways to tell when a person may be financially abusive.

You may be experiencing financial abuse if someone is threatening you over your money. They may try to punish you when you spend your money or threaten you if you don’t give them money. They may also try to make you feel guilty for not giving them money when they ask for it.

Another sign you may be a victim of financial abuse is if someone controls whether you can get to your money. This may happen by not letting you have access to your money, credit or bank accounts. They may also not let you have enough money for your living expenses. They may make you ask permission to have your own money and may stop you from earning money. Also, they may not provide child support, making it difficult for you to meet living expenses.

You may also be experiencing financial abuse if someone is using your money without asking your permission, or without you knowing about it. They may do this by taking money out of your bank account without you knowing. They may use rent or bill money for other things, use your credit card without asking, hide bank statements so you don’t see what’s happening, or put you in a situation where you are forced to take on their debt.

Another sign of financial abuse is forging signatures on, or forcing you to sign, legal documents such as for loans or credit cards. It may also be financial abuse if they try and force you to change your will, or pressure you to give them power of attorney, especially if they don’t act in your best interests.

Financial abuse –

“Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes the victim’s ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive partner.” – About financial abuse

Are there certain people more at risk of financial abuse?

When it comes to those at risk of financial abuse, the statistics overwhelming reveal women are a common victim of financial abuse, and the perpetrator is usually male, often the intimate partner.

While there is a lot of focus on financial abuse by men against women within the context of domestic violence, the elderly are also at risk of financial abuse, as well as those who may have a physical or intellectual disability.

What are the financial abuse statistics in Australia?

The Commonwealth Bank has partnered with the University of NSW to generate a series of reports on the incidence of economic and financial abuse in:

  • Intimate partner relationships
  • First Nations communities
  • Across cultural contexts
  • Disability in the context of domestic and family violence

Overwhelmingly, financial abuse victims are female, and the perpetrator is male.

Statistically, around 1 in 4 women will be victims of financial abuse and, 1 in 13 men.

Approximately, 600 000 Australians have been victims of financial abuse in the past 12 months. It is estimated that financial abuse costs the community up to $10 billion a year. It is estimated that it costs $5.2 billion to the wider community due to the loss of productivity and the detrimental impact on mental health.

In the context of elder financial abuse, UK statistics indicate 53% is committed by family members and friends, with lawyers, financial planners and nursing home staff also implicated.

Financial abuse in the context of domestic & family violence – CommBank

Financial Elder Abuse – Signs of Financial Elderly Abuse (

 What can you do to protect yourself against financial abuse?

There are a number of things you can do to try and protect yourself from financial abuse.

Most importantly, don’t give your debit or credit card PIN number to anyone, and make sure your passwords and account login information is in a safe place. Another good idea to protect yourself from financial abuse is to open your own bank statements and check the transactions. If you have any concerns, make sure you raise them with the bank.

Another strategy to protect yourself from financial abuse is to maintain a relationship with people you trust, so you have someone to turn to if you have concerns with anyone that has access to your money. Also, don’t sign anything you don’t understand and try to get independent advice before agreeing to anything, especially legal and financial documents.

If you lend money to someone, make sure there is a plan for them to pay it back, and that it’s in writing.

Probably one of the best ways to protect yourself against financial abuse is to educate yourself on personal finance matters, as well as your own personal finance situation. That includes knowing how much money you are earning, where that money is going, whether you are getting paid the Superannuation you are entitled to, chasing up any Child Support you may be owed, having detailed information about your bills, and exactly where all your money is going.

What is Financial Abuse? | WIRE

” I finally left him. Properly. But I had serious credit card debt and James never paid me back any of the money he owed me. I vowed to never get myself in a situation such as that one ever again.”

“The best way that you can protect yourself from financial abuse is to ensure that you have good understandings of your personal financial situation. Whilst it is natural in some couples for one person to take on more responsibility in terms of paying bills and managing finances, it is important that both parties understand what money is coming in and going out. Taking a proactive approach to your personal financial management will help keep you protected”

Liz –
financial abuse
Statistically, those most at risk of financial abuse are women, the elderly, and those with a disability

Is financial abuse a crime in Australia?

Financial abuse can take many forms, and depending on what form it takes, the law has a wide spectrum of consequences, from criminal charges to no action at all.

To many, it may be clear-cut, that taking someone’s money without asking is theft or that signing someone else’s signature is forgery. However, financial abuse is a type of “coercive control” that is considered a crime in most of Australia but not all.

Coercive control is when someone uses psychological control over another in the way of threats, verbal abuse, financial control or humiliation. In NSW, the homicide of an intimate partner was often preceded by a history of coercive control. However, coercive control was not considered an offence, so authorities would often not be aware of the problem until it had escalated to stalking, property damage or violence. Efforts are in place to make coercive control a crime in NSW.

In some parts of Australia, financial abuse is not necessarily a crime in its own right, unless it falls under domestic violence legislation.

Within the context of elder financial abuse, the victim may have dementia, so there may not be elements of domestic violence or coercive control, but rather taking advantage of the person’s vulnerable state.

Is Financial Abuse a crime in Australia? – Crime – Australia (

Does Captain FI have experience with Financial Abuse?

Unfortunately, yes. My Mum experienced Domestic and Financial abuse from my father, and when she left the property with us, the only way he could exert control over her (and us) was with continued financial abuse and child support evasion. Mum left with no assets and about ‘three fifths of fuck all’ of savings, but had all the responsibility and bills. This meant that growing up, my siblings, mum and I were living below the poverty level in Australia.

I wrote a bit about it in ‘Reflections on an Amazing Childhood’ where despite this deliberate and targeted financial abuse by my absentee father, my amazing mum still managed to keep the lights on and the pantry stocked (at times with help from her parents, who for example helped her save for a downpayment on our family home).

I never realized it at the time, but my father was incredibly manipulative with my siblings and I when it came to finances. In addition to bad-mouthing our mother and talking about how “she couldn’t be trusted with money” and “she just gives away all his things”, he would often play favourites and try to buy our favour with seemingly random gifts, unfairly or unequally given out to the children. You wouldn’t hear from him all year and then all of a sudden it was an $800 video camera or a $400 walkman CD player… when all we really wanted was to spend time with him. Sadly, a lot of my memories of time spent with him were at the bar, or waiting outside the pokies (although I do have a few lovely memories such as going camping in Victoria on my 13th Birthday, and two trips overseas to stay with him in Indonesia). Looking back, I wouldn’t care for any of the gifts or fancy short trips, as long as he was meeting child support payments so my bloody mother wasn’t stretched so thin, and for him to live in the same area and actually shoulder responsibilities.

My Dad actually quit his high paying job, claiming that “After child support it‘s not even worth it” and decided to go onto the Dole (Welfare) and then grow a market garden where he sold produce under the table (“cashies”) to avoid declaring the income and thus avoid paying any income tax or child support. After a while he got sick of this lifestyle and moved overseas to Indonesia, where he was able to get back a high-paying job in the manufacturing industry and continue living ‘the good life’.

As he was outside of Australia, the family court could not enforce the child support payments. They could also not seize the property (in his name) to make arrears as it was considered his ‘Sole place of occupancy’ – that’s right, even though he moved to Indonesia for the better part of 30 years, on paper he was just over there visiting on a holiday and he still lived on the property – which he had renters in that were paying him again (under the table).

It honestly makes me feel sick just typing this. The extent he went to lie, charm, deceive and defraud the government and so many people as a vindictive measure to financially abuse my family because my mum left him is just astounding. The level of arrogance, selfishness, and quite frankly, sociopathic, manipulative behavior makes me think my father has a serious antisocial personality disorder. My Mum fell for his charm, and then eventually became a victim of his financial abuse and desire to control everything which spread to our relationship with him, too.

How can you get help for financial abuse?

Victims of financial abuse can get advice and support from a number of different organisations, these include:

If you think you are in immediate danger, make sure you call 000 in an emergency. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support or support for physical or emotional abuse.

financial abuse
You can get help for financial abuse – reach out to Relationships Australia, Lifeline or OPAN (contact details above)


Financial abuse can be a hidden form of coercive control within domestic violence, that mostly affects women, those with a disability and the elderly. Financial abuse can take many forms but occurs when someone stops you from having control and access to money. Financial abuse can be more about control than money and may lead to a loss of independence, and a sense of being isolated. Recognising the signs of financial abuse can help to identify it, and putting strategies in place will help to protect yourself. Organisations like Relationships Australia can provide guidance and advice to victims of financial abuse.

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