An elderly member walksinto the credit union lobby to make a withdrawal. Nearby stands the person who drove her there, anxiously waiting for the transaction to be completed. As the member struggles to remember why she’s there, should the teller:
A. Remind the member of her initial withdrawal request;
B. Complete the transaction immediately to keep the line moving; or
C. Stop the transaction, attempt to identify her companion, call a manager, and report a case of possible elder abuse?
How the teller responds might be a question of common sense, but it might also be an issue of state law. States are passing laws with increasing frequency targeting elder financial abuse.
Financial exploitation of senior citizens can strip away the savings and other assets that allow this vulnerable group to live without fear of financial dependence on family or government. Perpetrators include unscrupulous fraudsters, caregivers, or even family members.
The state laws are far from uniform. But there’s a growing trend toward adoption of mandatory reporting for identified elder financial exploitation and abuse similar to those in place for medical professionals encountering physical or mental abuse of senior citizens.
It’s important to understand elder financial abuse laws and implement procedures to identify and report cases to the proper authorities. Your league will have information about what, if any, state elder abuse law exists that affects credit unions. But with members in many different states, compliance becomes more challenging.
The definition varies from state to state. Generally, the laws protect “vulnerable elders” from anyone— including a relative or trusted caregiver—who “assists” or “takes, secretes, or appropriates their money or property, to any wrongful use, or with the intent to defraud” the elderly credit union member.
The California law just cited covers the illegal or improper use of the financial resources of any California resident older than the age of 65.
Your front-line staff should be aware of these typical signs of abuse:
► Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts;
► Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition;
► Suspicious changes in wills, powers of attorney, titles, or insurance policies;
► The addition of names to the elder’s signature card;
► Financial activity when the elder is incapacitated;
► Missing property, large or unexplained withdrawals from accounts, or transfers between different accounts;
► Statements no longer going to the elder’s home;
► Unfamiliar signatures on checks and other documents; and
► Changes in spending patterns, such as buying items the elder doesn’t need.
Some suspicious activity might be fairly easy to spot, such as when a caregiver or family member brings the elderly member to the credit union to make changes to accounts or large withdrawals.
Other activity isn’t so easily recognized—for example, when a member no longer signs checks and there’s no power of attorney on file.
NEXT: When is reporting required?