The Key To Deterring Financial Abuse Is Protecting Financial Institutions

by Henry Meier

North Carolina highlighted a problem which began to get more attention in New York when its Governor signed into law Senate Bill 140, designed to increase protection of the elderly and disabled from financial exploitation.  The law requires “[a]ny financial institution, or officer or employee thereof, having reasonable cause to believe that a disabled adult or older adult is the victim or target of financial exploitation “ to report such information.  It further provides that  “[n]o financial institution, or officer or employee thereof, who makes a report under this section may be held liable in any action if they acted in good faith.”

North Carolina tends to be on the leading edge of banking reform and I wouldn’t be surprised if its actions are a further impetus for reform in other states, including New York.  If New York and other states want to deter elder abuse then the simplest thing they could do is pass laws that shield financial institutions that report suspected abuse either to the police or social welfare agencies.  If you have worked for a credit union or bank, you have heard stories of or dealt with a member wishing to wire payment of a fee to Nigeria in return for receiving their winnings in the  Nigerian lottery.  Maybe you have watched uncomfortably as a spouse, child, or sibling “helps” an increasingly enfeebled member transfer money out of her account.

The lawyer in me would remind each and every one of you that you are not fiduciaries of your members’ accounts and that a member has an absolute right to do whatever she wants with her money.  Fortunately, most of you are not lawyers and when having to choose between doing the safest thing legally and effectively disobeying a member who believes she has won the lottery at least some of you disobey the member.  It’s a tough call.

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