Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Press Call
September 24, 2013
Thank you for joining us today. At the Consumer Bureau, we work to create a sustainable, thriving marketplace characterized by responsible business practices and informed consumers. In creating this new agency, Congress specifically recognized the needs of older Americans when it comes to financial protection. The law requires us to have an office that focuses on improving the financial lives of our growing numbers of seniors. With 50 million older Americans in this country and with the aging of the baby boomer generation, that mission has never been more important.
Unfortunately, we have seen that older Americans are all too often the victims of financial exploitation. They make attractive targets because they often have higher household wealth – whether it is in retirement savings or home equity. Older Americans are also more likely to experience cognitive decline, which can impair their capacity to recognize financial exploitation and fraud. Recent studies found that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse – and that only a small fraction of incidents is reported.
I saw this myself as Attorney General of Ohio – how a lifetime of savings can be wiped out by falling prey to a scam artist. At the Consumer Bureau, we are dedicated to educating seniors, their caregivers, and their loved ones in order to prevent these things from happening. We believe that employees at financial institutions can be instrumental in preventing such fraud. For example, many older consumers are known personally by the tellers in their local banks and credit unions. These employees may be able to spot irregular transactions, abnormal account activity, or unusual behavior that signals financial abuse sooner than anyone else can.
Today, in collaboration with other financial regulators, we are releasing guidance to clarify privacy concerns for financial institution employees. The central point is that reporting suspected elder financial abuse to the appropriate authorities is typically the right thing to do and generally will not violate the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This federal statute establishes how and when a financial institution is allowed to disclose nonpublic personal information to third parties not affiliated with the institution. Financial institutions have expressed concern that in many circumstances they may not disclose such information unless they have informed the consumer and provided an opportunity to opt out. Today’s guidance makes clear that reporting suspected elder financial abuse generally is not subject to these same concerns and does not violate the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
When seniors fall victim to theft by a trusted family member or a scam, they may be too embarrassed or too frail to pursue legal action – so it is critical that other folks are looking out for them too. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is dedicated to working in every way we can to improve the economic security of America’s seniors – a generation that has earned the right to all the protection we can reasonably afford them. We have come to refer to them as the “Greatest Generation” because they have given so much to our nation. Now it is a responsibility we all share to make our best efforts to protect them, as they so richly deserve.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.