When people think of crime, often the first thing that comes to mind is violence – the masked robber holding a clerk at gunpoint, or a team of assassins stalking their next victim. Television and movies have gone a long way toward shaping our viewpoints on crime, as well as the process after a crime has been committed – as a defendant is charged and is put through the criminal justice system.
But television and reality are often two different things, and while much of the portrayal of crime may be at least somewhat accurate, much of the rest is not. Television and movies are made to make money, so they tend to skew and exaggerate in order to create drama, suck viewers in and make more money. As a result, some crimes that are not so flashy tend to get overlooked.
Defining Financial Abuse
One of those categories of crime is financial abuse. While not as flashy, perhaps, as a group of people robbing a bank truck full of money, financial abuse is probably more prevalent, and despite the common misconception, the penalties are very real.
Who Does it Affect?
Financial abuse can affect anyone and covers a wide variety of crimes designed to separate individuals from their money by use of a variety of means, including threats or deception. Many times it occurs in the confines of a relationship and thus isn’t as apparent as other crimes; it may simply look like bad decision-making on the part of a member of the relationship. One example would be an elderly person who suddenly changes a will.
Essentially, financial abuse is a form of theft. One of the groups most often targeted are the elderly. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) lists several of the most common types of financial abuse:
- Stealing an identity, or forging a signature in order to take money or goods
- Coercing an individual to sign over documents, property or money
- Using possessions without permission
- Using deception in order to gain access to property or for financial gain
- Fraud in any of its forms
- Telemarketing scams.
While there are obviously many other financial crimes, these are the most common and the most basic. While generally violence is not involved, deception and fraud leading to theft are the most general practices and can be implemented in a number of ways. While the material gain may not be great, the impact on the individual can be.
As financial abuse usually occurs within the confines of a relationship, whether it be a romantic relationship or a familial relationship, it is often difficult to detect, and sometimes is more difficult to guard against. Because the circumstances of each case may be so different, it is also difficult to specifically define steps to help avoid financial abuse. However, for individuals in relationships, US News recommends:
- Keep a separate bank account.
- Keep copies of all important documents.
- Don’t give out your pin number; don’t use a predictable pin.
- If you have a joint account, take out half of the assets.
For the elderly, The American Bankers’ Association has this advice:
- Plan ahead; speak to a representative from a financial institution to make sure your wishes are fulfilled.
- Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as agent in estate-planning matters.
- Lock up sensitive information, including account statements and check book, when having visitors.
- Once a year, check credit report to make sure it’s accurate.
- Never give out personal information over the phone.
Contact the Authorities
These steps may help, but no preventative steps are 100 percent foolproof. If you have been the victim of financial abuse, contact the authorities immediately. Financial abuse is a crime with real consequences and penalties, even if it doesn’t get much time on television.
Dan Carman and Attorneys, PLLC, are a network of criminal defense attorneys located throughout the state of Kentucky. If you have questions or seek a consultation, contact us online or call us at 859-685-1055.