Financial Abuse of Seniors: Regulators’ Guidance to Banks on Reporting Role

Financial Abuse of Seniors: Regulators’ Guidance to Banks on Reporting Role

Seniors abused through exploitation of their finances, property or assets are targeted by people they know, including members of their family, caregivers, home contractors and financial advisers. That’s in addition to the scam artists and others we commonly think of as crooks.

Financial crime – abuse somehow doesn’t seem strong enough a word – by seniors’ loved ones and others in whom they place their trust has become the most common form of elder abuse. It’s believed only a small fraction of these crimes are reported, though, often out of embarrassment or fear that the targeted senior will be seen as incapable of managing their own affairs.

Financial abuse is typically difficult for family members to catch and stop unless they regularly review senior loved ones’ finances — insight into a personal and private world few of us would want to give. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could count on those who do have access to their financial records to be on the lookout for signs of abuse?

Maybe we can…

Role of Banks in Reporting Financial Abuse

Banks and other financial institutions that serve seniors are in a unique position to protect them by spotting signs of abuse in their accounts and transactions. Our financial records are subject to legal privacy protections, of course, but there are exceptions that allow banks to report suspected abuse.

Federal bank regulators and consumer protection agencies just issued guidance to financial institutions regarding the reporting of suspected abuse and how it fits under privacy laws.

The guidance notes that a number of state and federal governmental authorities encourage or even require reporting of information that indicates potential senior abuse. They note that sharing of this type of information is specifically permitted under appropriate circumstances with the need for normal notification of account holders. That notification, of course, may delay intervention on behalf of the senior or even tip off the abuser.

The agencies point out that exceptions to privacy restrictions specifically allow disclosures made in order to

  • “report incidents that result in taking an older adult’s funds without actual consent” or
  • “report incidents of obtaining an older adult’s consent to sign over assets through misrepresentation of the intent of the transaction.”

Signs of Potential Senior Financial Abuse

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department provided an advisory describing potential signs of senior financial exploitation that would be helpful to keep in mind for those who see the financial records of older loved ones or talk with them regularly.

Unusual banking behavior or changing patterns might be cause for suspicion.

  • Frequent ATM withdrawals, especially large ones
  • Account over-withdrawals when that has not previously been a problem
  • Failure to pay bills on a timely basis for those who always pay on time, which may indicate accounts that have been drained
  • Closing financial accounts without apparent reason for doing so
  • Credit or debit card transactions that seem unusual for older adults or inconsistent with the seniors’ history

Interactions with caregivers or others close to a senior might also trigger action to protect them.

  • Unusual interest in a seniors’ finances
  • A family member or caregiver who stays near the senior whenever they are talking with others
  • Fear exhibited toward a family member or other caregiver
  • A caregiver, friend or even family member starts conducting transactions on behalf of the senior
  • Senior loved ones who previously spoke openly about their finances become reluctant to discuss them
  • A sudden change in financial managers or shift to a new power of attorney without reasonable explanation

It’s good to hear that our seniors’ financial institutions have the ability or even obligation to look out for signs of financial abuse. All the same, we shouldn’t count on them to catch abusive activity but be watchful ourselves.

It doesn’t matter who catches and stops abuse of our senior loved ones if it should happen — just that somebody stops it.

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