Michigan’s Financial Exploitation Prevention Act (FEPA) took effect Sept. 26, 2021, requiring financial institutions to report covered financial exploitation of vulnerable members. The act was a product of collaborative work led by the Department of Attorney General's Elder Abuse Task Force. The Michigan Credit Union League was an active and leading participant.
More than 73,000 older adults in Michigan are victims of elder abuse. FEPA was designed to intentionally cover any groups that a credit union deems vulnerable, but the protective benefits are particularly likely to benefit these older adults.
This issue hit home with Michigan Legacy Credit Union CEO Carma Peters.
“Michigan Legacy was tired of seeing members exploited and their money taken, even when we tried to stop them,” said Peters. “When we learned of an opportunity to advance our efforts to stop this crisis, we took that opportunity.”
She worked with Peter Lichtenberg, a member of the Elder Abuse Task Force and Wayne State University professor who created the Financial Vulnerability Survey, a short questionnaire to determine the risk of financial exploitation. After learning about the survey, Peters saw an immediate opportunity to take action on behalf of Michigan Legacy members.
New members of the credit union aged 50 and up are automatically offered the Financial Vulnerability Survey. Their scores are included in a database to help monitor these members’ accounts for abnormal financial activity.
All Michigan Legacy staff participated in multiple training sessions with Wayne State on the survey and learned how to identify and discuss cognitive risk factors before exploitation occurs. As a result of this training, staff members have already been able to address several cases of older financial exploitation.
“Staff have been trained how to ask the questions differently and to recognize early cognitive decline. Staff have seen the results of this with members not insisting on going through with transactions we know are fraud/theft,” Peters said. “We are also able to identify members at moderate and high risk and have flagged their accounts for enhanced due diligence. Member/owners also have resources the credit union was unable to provide through olderadultnestegg.com including additional resources of education, assistance for victims and training for the family of older individuals.”
Not only is this work helping Michigan Legacy members, but the data used from this project with Wayne State will be analyzed to expand research insights into vulnerability and safeguards for older adults.
“Older adult financial exploitation is at epidemic heights,” said Peters. “Sadly, these crimes are often swept under the rug because victims are too ashamed to report them. We never want to see a credit union member financially manipulated and victimized, and this pilot program provides resources to truly empower our staff and our members.”
FEPA requires financial institutions to develop and implement policies, training and procedures for identifying and reporting the exploitation of their customers. It also allows financial institutions to freeze customer transactions or assets under certain circumstances; provides immunity from criminal, civil or administrative liability to financial institutions for actions taken in good faith under the act; and provides for the powers and duties of certain governmental officers and entities to enforce the act.