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What everyone needs to know about financial abuse

Financial abuse

Typically, emotional and physical mistreatment comes to mind first when discussing domestic abuse. There’s another type of abuse that needs vigilant attention, financial abuse. Why? It may surprise you to leam that financial abuse happens in up to 99% of domestic violence cases.

If it is so common, it begs the question… why aren’t more people talking about it?

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is one of the tools commonly used by abusers to gain control and power in a relationship. Financial abuse, also called economic abuse, comes in different forms. It can be subtle or overt but always includes limiting the victim’s access to family or financial resources. Financial abuse is like other types of intimate partner violence. It refers to behaviours that actively manipulate, intimidate or threaten. Sometimes, financial abuse occurs during the relationship. It may also happen when the survivor attempts to leave or has left the relationship

Financial abuse is an effective way to keep a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. According to research, victims often worry about providing for themselves and their children. This makes it difficult to leave the relationship.

It is also a common form of elder abuse.

Unfairly profiting from a senior person’s financial resources is elder financial abuse. Elders may face abuse from a variety of sources, including family and caregivers. The most common tactic is the unauthorized use of an elderly person’s assets. 

Common signs of financial abuse

There is no one way to handle money in any type of relationship. This means forms of financial abuse can vary between situations. This makes detecting abusive behaviours difficult. Abusive partners may argue, “This is just how our relationship works.” That being said, there are common warning signs

  • They become overly interested or involved in your money affairs.
  • Your bank account statements show withdrawals or transfers that you did not make.
  • You start failing to meet your financial responsibilities after never having issues before.
  • They suggest you make unwanted or unfavourable changes to important legal documents. For example, your will or mortgage.
  • They threaten to withhold important funds, such as child support.
  • You feel scared of or pressured by them.

The impact of financial abuse

The effect of financial abuse is usually devastating. Especially because emotional abuse often accompanies financial abuse. This can leave victims feeling unsure of themselves and inadequate. They may even fear needing to go without necessities, such as food or electricity.

It can leave them without access to their bank account, no independent income, or large amounts of debt built up by their abuser. Leading to detrimental changes in the victim’s credit score.

It can also leave the victim vulnerable to violence or other forms of physical abuse. It is extremely hard to do any safety planning without access to economic resources.

For example, if an abuser becomes violent, it is hard for the victim to leave and stay safe without money. If they leave the relationship, getting safe and affordable housing may be difficult. They may also struggle to pay for things like food, transportation, and clothing.

What to do if you’re a financial abuse victim

There are steps you can take to protect yourself if you are experiencing financial abuse. Here are some other ways to protect yourself:

  • Protect your personal financial information. Request that your bank and credit card companies change your account details. Change your PIN and access credentials. Don’t share these with anybody else after you change them.
  • Get your credit report. Request a free copy of your credit report. This will help you learn more about your financial situation. In particular, it will show you if the abuser has opened other accounts or lines of credit in your name.
  • Plan for the future. If you can’t escape your abuser right away, take action by making a plan for when you can. Open a new account and keep your money somewhere your abuser cannot find it. 
  • Find help. Talking to trusted loved ones can bring support and encouragement. Family and friends may also offer help, like housing or financial support. 

How to prevent financial abuse

Knowledge is the best defence against financial abuse. More tips to prevent becoming a victim:

  • Make financial transactions yourself whenever you can. Use telephone or online banking if getting out is difficult.
  • Anyone assisting you with financial matters should be a trusted contact person.
  • Carefully research financial arrangements like joint bank accounts or Power of Attorney.
  • Remember that you can say “no” when people pressure you for money. Even family members.
  • Make sure you fully understand everything you sign. Don’t sign blank documents.
  • Don’t give anyone your bank card, account information, or PIN.
  • Deposit pension cheques and other sources of income directly into your account. You can also pay bills by having the money taken directly out of your account.

Most vulnerable

Financial abuse is extremely elusive to spot and has no “types.” That’s why it’s so important to be informed and resist the urge to categorize who are the most likely victims. It can happen to anyone.

  • Any age, location, or occupation. 
  • Any abilities or disabilities, sexuality, gender, religion, ethnicity or skin colour. 
  • Any residential status, education or social class. 
  • If you have children, whether you live with your partner or without. 
  • If you’re in a monogamous relationship, have more than one partner, or are no longer in a relationship. 
  • Can occur in other family relationships as well. It can happen between family members or any other family-like relationship. Caregivers or roommates, for example.


Financial abuse can be hard to identify. It is frequently a pattern that occurs over time, not a single event. When protecting yourself, it can help to remember, it’s your money and your possessions. They do not belong to your family or anyone else.

If you’re experiencing financial abuse, contact your bank or local police right away. Calling a domestic violence hotline can provide useful information on gaining financial independence.

If you ever find yourself trying to rebuild from the financial aftereffects of financial abuse, we can help. Call us and one of our compassionate and trained counsellors will guide you through how to get your finances back on track.

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