Banks can report elder financial abuse

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Banks and other financial institutions can report suspected elder financial abuse to appropriate law enforcement authorities without undue concern that they might be violating certain consumer privacy rules.

That’s according to new guidance issued jointly by the Federal Reserve, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Trade Commission, National Credit Union Administration, Comptroller of the Currency and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Federal law requires financial institutions to notify consumers and give them an opportunity to opt out before their nonpublic personal information is disclosed to third parties. But this requirement shouldn’t bar banks from reporting suspected instances of elder financial abuse to local, state or federal agencies, regulators said in a statement.

Not only scam artists, but also disreputable financial advisers, family members, caregivers and home repair contractors oftentimes target older adults because the older people have retirement savings, home equity or other assets and might be experiencing cognitive decline, which can impair their capacity to recognize financial exploitation and scams.

Bank employees may be able to spot irregular transactions, account activity or other behavior that signals financial abuse and can help detect and prevent elder financial exploitation by reporting suspicious activities to the proper authorities, regulators said.

A February 2011 U.S. Treasury advisory notes the following possible signs of elder financial abuse:

  • Erratic or unusual banking transactions.
  • Changes in typical banking patterns.
  • Frequent large withdrawals.
  • Daily maximum currency withdrawals from an ATM.
  • Sudden nonsufficient fund activity.
  • Uncharacteristic nonpayment for bank or financial services.
  • Debit transactions that are inconsistent for an older adult.
  • Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.
  • Closing certificate of deposit or bank accounts without regard to penalties.
  • A caregiver’s or other individual’s excessive interest in an older adult’s finances or assets.
  • A financial institution’s inability to speak directly with the older adult, despite repeated attempts to contact him or her.
  • A new caretaker’s, relative’s or friend’s sudden commencement of financial transactions on the older adult’s behalf without proper documentation.

Do you think older bank consumers are targets of scam artists? Are there other methods of financial abuse that aren’t listed above?