Fighting against elder financial exploitation
The statistics of Elder Financial Exploitation are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 10 Americans age 60 and older suffers from some form of financial abuse. And even though many states have mandatory reporting requirements, this number is likely much higher. Sadly, many times exploitation is not reported because the victims depend on their abuser for care and assistance with daily living; they are either unable or unwilling to report the abuse.
Recently the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released a strategic analysis of elder financial exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports filed between 2013 and 2019. The analysis indicated elder financial exploitation is on the rise, noting nearly 7,500 filings in August 2019 alone.
If you are reading this article, you undoubtedly know that elder financial exploitation is a difficult crime to manage. Credit union employees pride themselves on service and personal relationships with their members. This means they are often one of the first to notice the exploitation. However, despite several financial institution regulatory agencies having developed guidance, the complexity of state laws often leaves credit union employees feeling like their hands are tied when trying to stop the exploitation.
Over the past few years, many states have developed cross agency studies into financial abuse, specifically of seniors. In Tennessee, the General Assembly recently enacted the Elder Abuse Task Force. The task force is charged with assessing the current status of elders and other vulnerable adults related to financial exploitation; examining the existing barriers, services, and resources addressing the needs of these elder persons and vulnerable adults; and developing recommendations to address problems associated with the financial exploitation of these elder persons and vulnerable adults.
Over the past year, the task force has reviewed testimony from credit unions, banks, and Adult Protective Services. They are currently studying several ideas to increase awareness and recommendations to provide to the Governor. One theme which has been consistent throughout the task force meetings is the need for additional training for financial institution staff.
One of the programs already in existence is AARP’s BankSafe online training platform. Offered in partnership with CUNA, the program is designed to:
- Empower bank and credit union employees with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to better understand and interact with older customers.
- Help financial institution employees identify signs of financial exploitation and
- Teach employees the right steps to take to protect the assets of older Americans.
(Did I mention that it’s excellent and free?!)
Despite strong training programs available such as BankSafe, many financial institution employees reported to the task force that they are not always certain how to properly identify true elder financial exploitation or when to report the potential crime. This confusion among seasoned employees is the reason I believe one of the most important solutions to fight elder financial exploitation is simply awareness: awareness among employees through ongoing training programs, awareness among public officials through personal stories credit unions have experienced, and most importantly awareness among members.
There are some key steps credit unions can take proactively to increase awareness among these stakeholders and – as stakeholders become more adept at identifying victims of fraud – to be prepared to respond to potential cases of elder financial exploitation. These include:
- Train all staff members to recognize the warning signs of financial exploitation. Provide realistic examples based on your own members’ experiences.
- Educate members, family members, and potential victims about current trends in financial exploitation through emails, social media, lunch and learn, and newsletters. Give real-life examples of schemes and methods.
- Meet with local, state and federal lawmakers to discuss situations in their communities. Invite them to your credit union to learn about the issue. Provide open dialogue and suggestions for improving the lives and safety of elderly and vulnerable members in the community.
- Give staff members an action plan for reporting the exploitation. This should be an internal system of reporting to ensure the Fraud or Bank Secrecy Act Department is aware of the exploitation. A reporting or investigative hierarchy is important.
- Train appropriate staff members how and when to report to authorities.
At the Tennessee Credit Union League, we prioritize supporting our credit union’s efforts to combat elder abuse among their members, and I know my colleagues nationwide do the same for the credit unions in their states. If you need specific recommendations on where to start, I invite you to please reach out to me, my staff or the league/association that represents your state.