Tips & Advice

Signs of Financial Abuse

Signs of Financial Abuse

Maxine McCreadie


Everyone has the right to make financial decisions on their own, but this isn’t always the case in some relationships.

It’s not uncommon for family members, partners or carers to advise you on how to spend money, but when this advice turns into control, financial abuse occurs.

Identifying the line between well-intentioned advice and manipulative control is crucial. Doing so will help you maintain control over your independence.

If you think someone is abusing your finances, there are steps you can take to regain control.

You are not alone – at least 16% of adults in the UK report they have experienced financial abuse.

This article will explore financial abuse in greater detail, help you spot the signs, and give you advice on how to navigate these circumstances if you suspect you, or someone you know, is being exploited financially.

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What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence that involves money. If someone is controlling your spending, your assets, finances, or your access to cash, you may be a victim.

These actions aim to isolate you and are a form of control for the abuser. This type of abuse often occurs alongside other forms of domestic abuse.

Financial abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, or wealth.

Financial abuse is not simply about misusing money; it involves someone controlling your financial autonomy to restrict your freedom and dignity.

This type of abuse results in financial insecurity, leaving victims unable to live independently or to escape abusive situations.

It typically takes place over a long period of time, and victims often don’t recognise the signs or realise that they’re being taken advantage of.

You do not have to live with an abuser for abuse to happen – often, victims escape an abusive situation only to find themselves with massive debt built up in their name by an ex-partner.

Due to the subtle ways in which this abuse is carried out, it’s often challenging to detect and confront.

Many victims ignore the red flags and dismiss initial instances as isolated incidents or misunderstandings.

A consistent pattern of financial manipulation can make it more obvious, but many people simply aren’t aware of any untoward signs.

Financial abuse is not just about the immediate financial strain – the long-term emotional and psychological impacts can be long-lasting, affecting your self-esteem, confidence and mental health.

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Forms of Financial Abuse

There are many forms of financial abuse, including theft and misuse of benefits. This abuse often occurs between family members or in an abusive relationship.

It may be part of a pattern of coercive control that uses threats, intimidation and degrading behaviour to restrict your independence.

Some of the most common forms of this type of abuse include:

  • Forcing a partner to take out multiple loans or lines of credit
  • Restricting a victim’s access to money and cash and taking control of their bank account
  • Racking up high debts in someone else’s name
  • Putting shared assets in the abuser’s name
  • Denying access to shared funds
  • One partner controls how the household income is spent
  • Interfering with someone’s ability to work, stopping a victim from going to work, or getting them fired on purpose
  • Pressuring a victim to give money to other people, leaving them unable to pay for essentials
  • Pressuring a victim to change the beneficiaries of their will
  • Forging signatures on financial documents
  • Taking money out of a family member’s pension
  • Abusing the power of attorney

What are the signs of financial abuse?

It can be tough to recognise the signs of financial abuse, especially if it’s happening to you.

You may not realise you are a victim of abuse and may think your partner has your best interests at heart. It’s important you remember anyone can be a victim.

As financial abuse is often a gradual, subtle manipulation, abusers are typically skilled at keeping their abuse under wraps.

They will often resort to victim blaming and gaslighting – making the victim doubt themselves and think they’re at fault.

However, if you feel uncomfortable with how your partner, carer or family member is behaving with your money, they may be taking advantage of you.

If you’re worried you or a family member are in danger, there are a number of warning signs that could suggest financial abuse is happening:

  • Unusual transactions on bank statements
  • Inability to access cash from banking, or other income sources like a pension
  • A sudden decrease in savings
  • Being refused credit
  • Being instructed not to discuss financial matters with others
  • Alienation from friends and family
  • Fear of partner/carer/family member
  • Drop in quality of life
  • A change in personality
  • Being in the dark about credit, loans and products in their/your name
  • Disappearance of financial material – chequebooks, credit cards and bank statement
  • Anxiety about spending money

Some red flags to look out for in a partner, carer or family member are:

  • They seem unusually interested in your finances
  • They undermine your ability to work
  • They stop you from being able to work
  • They jeopardise your ability to study
  • They criticise and gaslight you
  • They steal from you
  • They want you to pay for everything
  • They gatekeep household finances from you
  • They don’t allow you to use your bank account

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The Impact of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can have a massive impact on a person’s life, both financially and physically.

The mental hardship endured during a period of abuse can take its toll, resulting in trust issues, further isolation, guilt issues when spending money, and other forms of financial fear and anxiety. Victims often blame themselves for abuse, resulting in misplaced anger and intense shame.

On top of the psychological effects, there is also a significant financial burden. This can become a barrier to many survivors looking to rebuild their lives.

Victims find it tough to leave abusive situations without access to money, credit cards, and other financial resources.

No access to cash means that finding housing is a challenge, and paying for essentials like food and clothing is a struggle.

Many victims choose to remain in dangerous situations due to this, especially when children are involved.

Even if a victim can leave permanently, the damage to their finances and credit history makes establishing long-term security difficult.

High amounts of debt and financial liabilities can leave many stranded and in need of emergency support.

Victims can find it tough to get a job due to their employment records and may have impending legal action against them from creditors.

How to protect yourself from financial abuse

Protecting yourself from financial abuse requires knowledge and awareness.

You can do several things to maintain control of your finances, but the key is safeguarding your financial independence.

If you open a joint account, always keep a personal account only you can access. Have your wage paid into your bank account, and transfer money from it for joint purchases or to pay bills.

Do not hand over control to any shared finances, and communicate about money with your partner.

Always keep track of your bank statement, and question any unusual transactions.

Open accounts online, and set passwords and security questions that only you know.

Keep your PIN safe and private, and regularly check your credit report to ensure no new lines of credit appear. There are many free credit report options out there.

If you lend people money, arrange a repayment plan and get it in writing. And likewise, if you give someone money to shop for you, record the total and estimate the change.

Ultimately, keeping on top of your financial affairs and tracking your money will ensure you remain in control.

What Can You Do When Financial Abuse Occurs?

If you suspect you’re being taken advantage of financially, there are a lot of critical resources at your disposal.

While talking to your bank about financial abuse might seem intimidating, they will be able to help.

Due to the UK Domestic Violence Act 2021, banks are now legally mandated to support customers who are financial or economic abuse victims.

A lot of banks have partnered with domestic violence charities, a lifeline that grants victims much-needed support.

Banks have teams that specialise in dealing with customers in abusive situations and often operate as a safe space for domestic abuse victims – so whether you phone or walk in, someone will be able to help.

Banks will help you open accounts in your name only and can help separate your debt and unlink your finances if you have a joint account or if your name is an on any accounts with secondary card holders.

If safe to do so, keep track of any incidents where you’ve seen a sign of financial abuse.

Records can be beneficial if you decide to pursue legal action or file a police report.

If you have someone you can trust, speaking to them is of the utmost importance.

But it can also be helpful to reach out to domestic violence charities directly. They’ll be able to point you towards temporary housing and provide counselling and potentially legal aid to help you gain your freedom.

I think someone I know is suffering financial abuse. What can I do?

Supporting someone that is experiencing abuse is challenging, but your help can make a significant difference in their life.

Research professional resources and organisations that can offer them help and hold any documentation of abuse they have.

Help them connect with any local resource, such as charities, lawyers or financial advisors, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Check-in with them and make sure they’re safe. Let them know that you support them and keep their confidentiality.

You can hold money for them and help them save if they want to leave an abusive situation. Offering to let them use your address for banking and mail can also provide a vital lifeline.

How can I rebuild my finances after financial abuse?

After suffering financial abuse, rebuilding your finances may seem like an overwhelming task.

However, the process of regaining financial independence is important; it’s about reclaiming control and building a solid foundation for the rest of your life.

Rebuilding your finances and your credit takes time, but it is achievable.

If you open a bank account, you can begin tackling any debts left in your name.

Reaching out to lenders and explaining your situation can often lead to more manageable repayment plans or temporary relief.

Additionally, talking to a financial advisor can give you the clarity and guidance you need to navigate this period.

Paying your debts off will improve your credit score and provide you with some financial stability.

Then you can start saving money and work to improve your credit score.

Fostering a good relationship with money is crucial in this process, and setting realistic financial goals will give you proper direction and motivation.

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Who is at risk of financial abuse?

Anyone can be a victim of financial abuse. However, certain groups are particularly vulnerable due to various factors that might make them easier targets.

  • People over the age of 65 often find themselves the victim of abuse. They may have savings, be isolated, or suffer from health issues or cognitive decline, making them more vulnerable to manipulation.
  • Individuals with disabilities are preyed upon by abusers as they are often isolated and dependent on others for care and support.
  • Financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, as abusers use financial control to exert power and keep their partners trapped in a toxic relationship.
  • Immigrants, especially those unfamiliar with the economic systems or with limited language skills, can be at a higher risk. They could be misled, coerced into signing documents they don’t fully understand, or be exploited due to their lack of knowledge about their rights.


Financial abuse is a serious crime that can severely impact you or a loved one, leaving deep financial and mental scars.

It can be hard to notice financial abuse, even when you’re a victim – however, there are distinct indicators that can point to abuse.

FscoreThis abuse is subtle, often happening over the years alongside other domestic violence.

If you think you or someone you know is suffering financial abuse, there are many things you can do to help and support them.

For someone stuck in a cycle of abuse, reaching out can be an essential lifeline.

And while it may be difficult to see an image of yourself free from financial abuse, it absolutely is possible to regain financial independence.

You aren’t alone in this fight, and there are resources and support systems available to help you break free of abuse. Surviving economic abuse is challenging, but it is possible.

Maxine McCreadie
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine is an experienced writer, specialising in personal insolvency. With a wealth of experience in the finance industry, she has written extensively on the subject of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, Protected Trust Deed's, and various other debt solutions.

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