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Banks Play a Critical Role in Halting Financial Exploitation

In the fight against elder abuse in the nursing home, we frequently point out that friends and family members are the front line of defense. Many seniors are unable to communicate their challenges, unfamiliar with their exact rights, and/or embarrassed about their situation. That is why relatives are needed to stand up and demand accountability when they suspect problems. It’s the very reason why this year’s theme for Residents’ RIghts Month is “Speak Out Against Elder Abuse.”

The challenge of identifying mistreatment does not exist only in the nursing home. In fact, the problem may be even more acute outside these facilities, when seniors live alone and may have less day-to-day oversight from trusted loved ones. One of the most common forms of elder mistreatment among seniors living on their own is financial exploitation.

Far too many individuals–from strangers to friends and relatives–are willing to use the senior’s situation for their own gain. The mistreatment can take the form of scams or forced agreements to outright theft. In all cases, it is illegal and wreaks severe havoc on the life of the vulnerable community member.

Banks- Important Line of Defense
When it comes to financial exploitation, there is one potential ally in the fight which isn’t available in traditional nursing home neglect cases–banks. Bank employees are the gatekeepers of all of our savings, and so they are well positioned to speak up when they have suspicions about a senior-client who may be facing exploitation.

A Boston Globe article this month expanded on this topic. The story noted that, unlike the younger generation, seniors are still far more likely to do their banking at an actual facility, instead of online. As a result, bank tellers and other employees frequently develop friendly relationships with the clients, often documenting their banking habits. By reporting changes in withdrawals or suspicious routines, bank employees can act as a stopgap measure to nip exploitation before it gets out of hand.

Naturally, these tellers may be a bit cautious about reporting, however, as there are concerns about their bank client’s privacy rights. No one wants to overstep their bounds. But in most cases, merely mentioning potential problems has no effect on privacy rights and has a huge potential upside.

For that reason, the federal agency known at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued guidance to banks which effectively quell the institutions’ fears about reporting. The CFPB suggests that bank employees should not hesitate to act when fraud is a possibility. If they do not speak up, no one else may be in a position to notice anything–seniors may have their entire life savings wiped out.

The article points out that, as a legal matter, there are built in exceptions to privacy rules in these situations. A law known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act provides for exceptions regarding the sharing of basic information when unauthorized transactions or fraud are possibly at play. In other words, it is important for bank tellers to appreciate that their hands are not tied in these situations, and they have the power to save a senior-client much distress.

See Other Blog Posts:

Celebrate Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Month

Elder Guardianship Abuse