Published in: Banks | May 21, 2020

How to Prevent Financial Abuse

By:  Dana George

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As tempting as it may be to open your heart and life to a new person, avoiding financial abuse involves taking it slow until you know who they really are. 

A woman sitting at one end of a couch with her hands covering her face while a man sits with his arms crossed on the other end.

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From the time we are children, we are taught to look out for danger. Yet few of us have been told to avoid financial abusers. That may be because financial abuse is one of the least discussed forms of cruelty. Financial abusers weasel their way into a victim's life, and often, before the victim realizes what has happened, seize control of financial resources.

Financial abusers have two primary motivations: Greed and weakness. An abuser who targets the elderly is in it for the money. And an abuser who targets a romantic partner likely feels weak and ineffectual. They need to control their partner, to force them to stay because they're terrified of being alone.

There is no sweet or romantic reason for someone to financially abuse another person. Abusers think only of themselves and their desires. They have no concern for their victim's wants or needs.  

Financial abusers are good at what they do. They're slick and practiced and are sometimes hard to spot. That's why it's so important to know how to prevent financial abuse in your life. Whether you're in a romantic relationship or you're elderly and being cared for by another adult, you have the power to head off financial abuse before it happens. Read on to learn how.

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Avoid financial abuse by taking it slow

Financially abusive relationships start off looking and feeling healthy. The abuser says they love you and make you believe it -- for a time. If you've been alone for a while, or if you dream of being the center of someone else's universe, it can be a heady experience. Whether it's romantic or you're growing old and someone says they want to take care of you, it's only human to crave the attention.

And here's where you need to take it slow. As lost as you may be in emotion, adopt this mindset: If they're worthy of my attention, they will prove it.

Financial abusers can smell desperation. They look for someone who has too little self-esteem or is too lonely to fight back. They want to take over every aspect of that person's world. 

No matter how you feel, protect yourself. If a person is truly who they say they are, they will wait. If not, you will likely begin to see signs of control.

Recognize the signs of financial abuse

There are behaviors that most financial abusers have in common. It is unlikely that anyone possesses them all, but if you see any of the following signs, you know it's time to jettison this person from your life:

  • Appears unusually interested in your finances
  • Offers to take over your checking account and "make sure your bills get paid"
  • Discourages you from working or undermines your ability to do so
  • Steals anything from you, no matter how small or seemingly excusable
  • Finds subtle ways to criticize you, eroding your confidence
  • Wants you to pay for meals, entertainment, clothing, and other niceties
  • Claims that they're "protective of you" or that it's the way things are done in their culture when called on their behavior
  • Hints that they think you may be losing your ability to do things for yourself
  • Blames everything that goes wrong in their life on someone else

Because each financial abuser is different, you may notice a dozen other signs of control not listed here. It is critical to listen to your gut. If it tells you there's something off, there likely is.

Protect yourself from financial abuse

Financial abusers are so wrapped up in their desires they probably won't notice that you've taken steps to protect your heart and finances -- at first. Once they do, you can expect them to come on stronger, to pressure you into a closer relationship, and to show you a darker side of themselves. Once this person comes into your life (or re-enters your life), put this plan in place. 

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Emotionally

  • Maintain friendships with people of all ages. Whether you meet friends through a club, civic organization, or church, having people who care about you makes it easier to spot abuse. It also gives you someone to call who will support you. 
  • If you're able, be generous with your time and find a volunteer opportunity that appeals to you. Not only will it help someone else, it will also increase your sense of community and self-worth. 
  • Consider it a huge red flag if the new person in your life is a substance abuser or has a history of violence. The "why" does not matter. It's easy to get caught up in wanting to save someone. Your job is to protect yourself.
  • If your self-esteem could use a boost, talk to a counselor. Don't look to a new relationship to make it better. You do the work, and you benefit from the effort.

Practically

  • Control your phone. There is no reason for anyone else to read your texts, look at your search history, or otherwise touch your phone.
  • Open your own mail. Under the guise of "being helpful," a financial abuser will attempt to know your business.
  • Never, under any circumstances, share your PIN.
  • Keep your checks, bank cards, and other methods of payment in a safe spot that only you know. If anything comes up missing, notify your bank and the police.
  • Frequently review your bank statements, alone. If you see anything irregular, contact your bank. 
  • Do not leave money or valuables in view.
  • Never sign a blank check. If you need help writing checks, ask a trusted third party to do it.
  • Make it a practice to never lend money, even with a promissory document.
  • Do not cosign a loan.
  • Do not open a joint checking, savings, or credit card account with the new person in your life.

Ultimately, as you slowly move forward with the relationship, the new person in your life must know that you're not an easy mark. If they move on because of that, congratulations, you've dodged a bullet.  

Financial abuse is about so much more than someone helping themselves to your money. It's about disrespecting your right as an adult to make your own decisions. Now that you know what to look for, you're ready to head off anyone who might attempt to disrespect you.

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