Banks can help spot elder financial exploitation and abuse

An older Oklahoma resident began receiving sweepstakes offers in the mail after her 90-year-old husband moved into a nursing home. Just send $50, $100, $2000, even $5000 to claim your prize, they promised. When she asked a bank employee to help her send a large amount of cash in the mail, the bank investigated. It turned out the older customer had been writing as many as 90 checks a month to collect promised prizes that never materialized. The bank contacted the Postal Inspection Service to investigate and the authorities intervened .

A 98-year-old lawyer was scammed by a purported friend who loaned him office space and then accessed financial records stored there. When the older man was hospitalized for hip surgery, the 76-year-old friend drained $330,000 from bank accounts and used the money to pay for a trip to Puerto Rico and purchases at a variety of stores. Ultimately, the victim’s banks alerted authorities because of concerns about unusual activity on the accounts.

As we travel the country, we hear more stories of banks, credit unions, money transmitters, and other financial services providers spotting financial abuse targeted at older adults. Some of these are success stories like the ones we just shared: the financial institution makes a timely report, and authorities can prevent the theft, prosecute the perpetrator and help the victim.

But sometimes financial institution personnel are confused. They want to help protect the consumer, but are unsure whether privacy laws allow them to share a consumer’s personal information with law enforcement and other authorities that can take action.

That’s why today, along with seven other federal agencies, we released guidance on this issue for financial institutions . The guidance clarifies for banks and other financial services providers that reporting suspected elder financial exploitation to appropriate authorities does not generally violate the privacy provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, a federal law.

Reporting elder financial abuse is the right thing to do

Financial institutions often spot the red flags for abuse sooner than anyone else. We can only stop the financial exploitation of older adults through coordinated efforts at the community, state and national levels. Please join us in working to prevent, detect, and respond to this national problem and help prevent a disaster from happening to vulnerable elders across the country and in your community.

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