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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Baker

Financial Abuse: Know the Signs

Updated: May 12, 2021

Let’s get to the root of financial abuse, a hidden epidemic, which is said to affect 1 in 4 Australians and goes unreported. It's often found that financial abuse develops gradually with subtle signs that are hard to identify. It’s reported that victims often don’t know that it is happening at the time. Domestic Violence services have reported that financial abuse affects up to 90% of people who seek help for domestic and family violence. It can also occur across any demographic. About 16% of Australian women and 7% of men will experience it in their lifetime according to RMIT University.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is described as an exertion of power and control through financial means, with the perpetrator having control over the victim’s ability to access financial resources.

The effects of financial abuse can be devastating and long-lasting. Victims might end up struggling for basic human needs like a home, food, water, clothes or transportation. Not only this but also victims can often have a ruined credit rating, mounting debts or legal issues and a poor employment history. With this, it’s very difficult for victims to gain independence – hence the temptation to return to the perpetrator with a view to potentially being more financially secure.

What does it look like?

It can often come under the veneer of care or protection. The list of symptoms of financial abuse is endless as it can take on many forms:

  • Borrowing money without repaying

  • Taking money or using credit cards without permission

  • Trying to control your use of or access to money you have earned or saved

  • Impacting your credit rating by running up limits and being late on, or not paying bills

  • Believing they are entitled to your own money or assets

  • Demanding that you hand over your pay-check, disclose your passwords, and give them your credit cards

  • Opening your bank statements or other financial documentation

  • Demanding that you pay for their bills

  • Demanding that you bail them out of compromising financial situations​

  • Offering to help with financial decisions as a cover for gaining control over your finances

  • Compromising your freedom to make decisions, plan or budget

  • Criticising your financial decisions

  • Making important financial decisions without you

  • Insisting that you share your income but not sharing theirs

  • Hiding or taking funds and putting them into a private account (common during a divorce)

  • Refusing to work or contribute to the household income (be careful with this one as it will be specific to your dynamic

  • Demanding that you record every transaction you make

  • Holding the purse strings

  • Criticise you on how you handle your finances

  • Withholding financial information (also common during divorce or separation) such as passwords, account information and details of investments

  • Demanding you to ask for money or that you ask for permission before you spend

  • Put certain assets in only your name where you may be liable

  • Ensuring that important purchases that should be joint are in their name only (mortgage, apartment lease or ownership, mobile phones)

  • Not allowing you to have bank accounts

  • Threatening to cut you off when you disagree with them

  • Putting you under pressure to sign financial documents with limited time and without explanation

  • Restricting or refusing to pay child support or expenses such as schooling and medical

  • Making themselves bankrupt or withholding information on assets to leave you with less than you deserve

  • Purposefully dragging out a divorce to give you higher legal fees and leave you financially crippled

Please note that depending on your circumstances with your partner, some of these behaviours in isolation may be part of a healthy relationship. If you are in doubt, it might be worth talking to a trained professional (psychologist, financial counsellor) to give you guidance on what is acceptable.

What does a healthy financial relationship look like?

  • Financial decisions and responsibilities are shared.

  • Both partners have equal input in any economic decisions

  • Both partners are open and honest with each other


How to protect yourself:

  • Stay connected with people you trust, and don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns

  • Educate yourself on managing personal finances if you haven’t already

  • Regularly check bank and credit card statements for unauthorised transactions

  • Open your own mail

  • Keep account logins and passwords in a safe and secure place preferably online (read our Technology Abuse blog for advice on security online)

  • Never sign documents you don’t understand and take your time to read them without pressure – where possible

  • Get independent and confidential legal or financial advice – if necessary

Safety Planning for financial abuse is just as important as planning for physical abuse. We know that if you don’t have access to money or credit cards it will be very difficult to plan for your safety.

Here are some first steps you might take:

· Open a bank account in your name

· Look into your credit history

· Often the perpetrator will put a lease or credit card in the victim’s name to leave them with potential liabilities, so make sure you cut these off to avoid being implicated

· Find out what options are available to you in terms of loans or support from your bank

You can get actually get support from your bank:

If you are experiencing abuse, your bank might be able to flag your account, which means if the abuser contacts them and wants to do things with the account, they will be extra careful. They can work with you to separate your accounts.

If you are registered with a certain bank already, it’s worth contacting them to find out how they can help. Here are some banks that publicly offer financial abuse services:

You might feel it’s too hard for you to deal with the bank yourself so alternatively you can contact the National Debt Helpline who will set you up with a financial counsellor. They are well trained in this area and will deal with the bank for you and will help you to eliminate your debts.


COVID-19 Related Advice

The coronavirus is without a doubt impacting those facing financial abuse, with heightened frustration and anxieties and fewer resources on offer for those seeking help. In times of disaster, the economic decline could cause more volatility in the relationship – from fear of unemployment, increased debts and loss of assets.

People in Stage 4 lockdown in Victoria may be questioning whether they can actually leave their homes with these restrictions. The Victorian government has indeed indicated that you can leave your home even it’s after the 8pm curfew. And this is not just for physical abuse. Click here for the news link.


Urgent Assistance

Your situation might no longer be tenable and in which case you will be seeking urgent assistance. Please find below a list of services to help with each category where you may be affected:

Financial Specific Services

Food and Bills


They may be able to help you with things like:

  • Food vouchers or food parcels

  • Transport vouchers

  • Payment of prescriptions

  • Clothing, furniture or appliances

  • Part cover for utility bills

Please note that when you contact these organisations you will likely need to provide your Income Statement and a form of ID.

It’s also worth noting that there will be a waiting period between each visit or request for support. They will be able to guide you on the current schedule.

COVID-19 Update: you can apply for a Household Relief Loan to pay for rent and utilities and rent if you’ve been financially impact by the pandemic. Loans cover you for up to $3,000 and are repayable after 24 months. See if you are eligible today

Centre Link

Centrelink offers two kinds of emergency payments to people eligible for income support. Find out if you are eligible here:

Crisis payment

You may be able to get a crisis payment you are in a crisis situation such as:

  • Severe financial hardship

  • an extreme life change (for example, if you are escaping a violent relationship, are a refugee or are leaving prison)

  • a natural disaster

Advance payment

If you have already secured a Centrelink payment, you may be able to apply for an advance payment. It is still the same payment, but you would just have it paid to you earlier.

You can call 132 850, 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.


If you are currently homeless, facing homelessness or in a housing crisis, your state or territory government can help.

Here is a list of numbers and websites for your Government sponsored services:

ACT Housing and Community Services ACT OneLink 1800 176 468 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday 12:15pm to 3:30pm, Saturday and Sunday

NSW Family and Community Services Link2home 1800 152 152 24 hours

QLD Homeless Hotline 1800 474 753 24 hours

SA Homelessness Gateway 1800 003 308 24 hours

TA Housing Tasmania Housing Connect 1800 800 588 24 hours

VIC HousingVic 1800 825 955 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday 24 hours on weekends and public holidays

WA Entrypoint Perth 1800 124 684 (includes regional WA) 9am to 7pm, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday Closed public holidays

Please feel free to contact us at if you need help with being referred to any of these services.


For some watching or listening:

Please be aware that the below may be triggering or cause emotional distress.

· Financial Abuse: What to do When a Loved One Uses Money as a Means to Control You

· FINANCIAL ABUSE: An honest conversation with Kim Chambers, plus special guest

· Dirty John: Betty Broderick Story (on Netflix)


Make an appointment with DSC today to discuss your concerns and for guidance with financial planning or abuse. Contact

Our team of trained experts have been in this position and will help you to identify the signs and guide you depending on your individual situation.


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