The legal case of Cirillo v Mainieri & Anor in 2010 was a landmark one as it placed the spotlight on thousands of older adults who suffer from financial abuse. The case ended up in the High Court of Australia in 2014 and gave a voice to the victims who were silenced by family dynamics and the crippling fear of abandonment.

The prominent features of the case were typical of abuse: a trusted relative committed it and the victim was left to suffer the consequences for the rest of her life.

The abuse of elderly widow Rita Cirillo was financial. She had sold her home and contributed the proceeds towards her son Frank’s mortgage. In return, Frank consented to let Rita live with him indefinitely and that he would take care over her.

Soon thereafter, the relationship fell apart and Rita was left to reside in an aged care facility. Her son Frank claimed that the money given to him was a present and that he had no obligation to repay it.

This was a classic case of “assets for care”, a risky trade that can result in the elderly going through dire financial straits.

The Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, which is based in Queensland, explains elder financial abuse (EFA) as the illegal or improper use of a person’s finances or property by another person with whom they have a relationship implying trust.

It’s the most common type of elder abuse, with research in the country showing that a half to 5% of people aged 65 and older suffering elder abuse. Almost half of this abuse is financial, according to a 2009 study.

Women are often the victims and sons are more likely to be perpetrators.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report of the Australian Government claims that by the year 2055, a quarter of Australia’s population will be over the age of 65. This means that a staggering 40,000 Australians will be over the age of 100.

This figure gives cause for concern for advocates of seniors’ rights. When an asset-rich group of people deteriorations in function, the higher the chances that more children will act according to the law of the jungle, which is to prey on the vulnerable.

To help protect yourself from financial abuse and subsequent ruin, here are some tips for you to consider:

  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Never send money to someone you meet online
  • Never give personal information, or access to your computer, to people who contact you out of the blue
  • Report a potential scam to Scamwatch on 1300 795 995 to keep others fage

And to also help you spot financial abuse as early as possible, here are 10 signs to watch out for:

  • Promises of “good care” in exchange for transferring property or money to the carer
  • Fear, stress and anxiety shown by the older person
  • Unfamiliar or new signatures on cheques and documents
  • Incapacity of an older person to access bank accounts or statements
  • Substantial and unexplained withdrawals from accounts
  • Movement of assets when the person is no longer competent to manage their own financial affairs
  • Accounts suddenly moved to another financial institution or branch
  • Significant changes in the types of banking activities, or to a will
  • Lucrative assets, such as cars, jewellery or artwork suddenly going missing
  • Signs of physical or psychological abuse of the older person.

Learning from the hardship faced by Rita, be mindful of your own financial wellbeing at all times. It always pays to be vigilant. If you are getting to the point of needing assistance with your financial affairs never be afraid to ask multiple people who you trust.