Associate Director, Division of Consumer Education and Engagement
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
in honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2013
Thank you General Cooper, Secretary of State Marshall, and your distinguished colleagues for the opportunity to participate in this event and for your efforts to stop the financial exploitation of older people here in North Carolina. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and our work to address the devastating problem of elder financial exploitation. I am happy to be here with our partner in creating Money Smart for Older Americans, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
My name is Gail Hillebrand. I am the Associate Director for Consumer Education and Engagement at the nation’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB has a special office dedicated to the financial health of Americans aged 62 and older.
Older Americans are attractive targets for fraudsters, because some older Americans have wealth. U.S. households aged 65 and over had a net worth of approximately $18 trillion in 2009. Older adults may be victimized by a broad range of perpetrators, including scam artists, family members, caregivers, financial advisers, home repair contractors, guardians and others. One national study found that just over 5 percent of Americans age 60 and over experience financial mistreatment by a family member. After a financial mistreatment or fraud occurs, older Americans have little time and few resources to recoup lost savings.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is committed to helping older people, their caregivers, and others in the community spot and avoid frauds and scams. That is why the CFPB partnered with the FDIC to build a new module for the FDIC Money Smart community financial education program called Money Smart for Older Adults. The curriculum highlights common frauds, scams and other forms of financial exploitation that target older people. This training can be given to seniors, and to family members who care for them, in senior centers, community centers, faith-based organizations, and other places where people go for information or for help. You can order it for use in your community at .
In addition to the Money Smart for Older Adults program, I’d like to tell you about two other ways that the Bureau serves the older population and those who care for them, plus two things the CFPB offers to help adults of all ages.
First, older Americans can lose money because they trust the wrong person to give them financial advice. There is a bewildering array of titles for persons claiming expertise in providing financial advice to older Americans, and it can be very hard to distinguish those persons holding easy-to-obtain credentials from fully trained professionals. To begin to address this challenge, we studied the variety of “senior designations” and discussed the risks for older consumers who may rely on these designations. Our recent report is . It can be found on our website, consumerfinance.gov. Consumers who are thinking about trusting someone who claims to be a specialist or advisor with special expertise in seniors’ financial issues should take a look at this report at consumerfinance.gov, and also see the advice on how to choose a financial advisor found at the SEC’s investor.gov site.
Second, those older Americans who experience declining capacity to handle their finances face special challenges, and so do their families who want to protect these seniors and their finances. Even mild cognitive impairment can significantly reduce an older adult’s ability to detect a fraud or scam, and 22 percent of Americans over 70 have mild cognitive impairment. Experts say that the ability to handle finances is one of the first life skills to be impaired, often before family members observe the more obvious signs of a diminished capacity.
Diminished capacity means that some older Americans need a family member or other person to handle their money. Those family members are a critical source of support, but often have no training in how to handle someone else’s money. For the inexperienced person who is asked to step in and handle someone else’s money, the CFPB is developing a set of guides for “lay fiduciaries.” The guides will explain what a fiduciary does, how to properly segregate and account for funds, and how to protect these assets from scams and frauds by others. The CFPB will have this crucial information for the public later this summer.
The other two resources I would like to mention are available right now from the Bureau to help consumers of all ages. First, we offer Ask CFPB at our website, consumerfinance.gov. Ask CFPB is a set of nearly 1,000 short questions with short, unbiased answers to questions about financial products, services, and issues. Ask CFPB has a special tag for older Americans so people can easily see questions and answers that may be of particular interest to older adults. You can find this resource at www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/.
Second, the CFPB has an Office of Consumer Response, which accepts consumer complaints. Consumer Response now handles complaints about a variety of financial products including credit cards, credit reports, and mortgages. Consumers can call for help at (855) 411-CFPB.
The CFPB puts a high priority on preventing, detecting and redressing elder financial exploitation. We look forward to working with community organizations, financial institutions, and government offices in North Carolina and throughout the country to distribute the Money Smart curriculum and to work together to protect older Americans from financial harm.