Credit Unions combat elder financial abuse
WASHINGTON, DC (November 12, 2013) — The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) is proud to recognize the many credit unions from across the country that are working to combat financial elder abuse and exploitation. According to research from insurance provider MetLife, Americans over the age of 60 lost about $2.9 billion dollars from financial abuse in 2010, up 12% from the $2.6 billion lost in 2008. Credit unions are taking several steps to curb this escalating problem, including staff training to identify and report abuse, instituting new computer programs that can recognize irregular activity, and reaching out into the community to help educate vulnerable members about avoiding theft and fraud.
In light of the influx in abuse, there has also been an increase in legislation designed to protect the vulnerable, ageing population. In the last two years, 22 states have enacted some form of elder financial abuse legislation, which often requires financial institutions, including credit unions, to report suspected abuse. Credit union leagues have worked closely with state legislatures to ensure that these new reporting laws protect seniors while also ensuring individual privacy protection.
Here are just a few examples of the many ways credit unions are fighting back against elder abuse:
- Walnut Creek-based Pacific Service Credit Union in California was recognized by the NCUA in October for its role in fighting elder abuse. They have sponsored the Elder Financial Protection Network, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that seeks to raise community awareness. The credit union was also praised for supporting state-wide forums as well as providing extensive staff and community training in abuse recognition and prevention.
- In North Carolina, where new laws now allow credit unions to report fraud, the state league hosted a day-long summit that included panel discussions on the new reporting requirements, as well as best practices from credit unions and community banks on implementation.
- In Montana, the state credit union league worked closely with the legislature to create new laws to protect seniors. Their work included providing testimony in committees, and also working with law enforcement, interested parties, and other consumer protection groups to ensure that the new legislation incorporated the perspective of financial institutions who are interested in reporting abuse. As a result, two new laws were passed this year that make it easier for prosecutors to prove a senior citizen has been the victim of fraud, and that added a penalty for violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act if the victim is over 60 years of age.
- At Fort Smith Dixie Cup FCU in Arkansas, fraud prevention exists on a very personal level. Vicki Newton, the CEO of the credit union, recalls a situation where an elderly member she knows well came into the credit union. The member was disoriented and needed help with a Medicare issue. Recognizing that the member’s state of mind put her in a vulnerable position, Newton immediately called the member’s son. “We’re a small shop,” Newton says. “And with a closed field of membership, it’s easier to get to know our members and learn their financial habits. If something doesn’t look right, I’m going to catch it.”
- In St. Paul, Minnesota, Terri Maloney, president of Catholic United Financial Credit Union, has personal experience with identity theft and has made it her mission to help seniors in Minnesota by providing awareness and education. Since doing her first presentation on identify theft at Catholic United’s convention in August, Maloney has been invited to do six more.
- Champion Credit Union in North Carolina hosted an Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation Conference on Thursday, Oct. 10. The event included several speakers from the attorney general’s office, state social services, the postal inspector (to speak about mail fraud) and the sheriff’s department, all of whom provided information on avoiding financial exploitation and scams.
- In 2012, Bellco Credit Union in Greenville Village, Colorado, partnered with the Filene Research Institute to pilot a new program called Senior Sentry, which takes proven indicators–or red flags–of elder financial abuse, and applies them in the monitoring of member account activity to generate alerts. The program, which has proven effective in preventing fraud, is currently exploring options for further development on a larger scale.
With its network of affiliated state credit union leagues, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) serves America’s 6,900 state and federally chartered credit unions, which are owned by more than 97 million consumer members. Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives providing affordable financial services to people from all walks of life. For more information about CUNA, visit www.cuna.org or follow @CUNA on Twitter. For more information about credit unions, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org and follow @asmarterchoice on Twitter.