For Immediate Release - June 15, 2017

OFFICE OF CONSUMER AFFAIR’S DIVISION OF BANKS LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO DETECT AND PREVENT ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE

Boston, MA (June 15, 2017) – On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB) announces that it is working with state-chartered banks, credit unions and state government agencies to detect and prevent instances of elder financial abuse and bring greater awareness to the problem.

While thought to be highly underreported, the National Council on Aging estimates that as many as five million elders in the U.S. are robbed or defrauded of up to $36.5 billion annually. Individuals over the age of 60 make up the largest growing segment of the population. One of the most devastating and unrecognized forms of abuse is financial abuse. Perpetrators of elder financial abuse are often family members, friends, caregivers or the common predatory scammer. The result is usually the same. The victim is robbed of his or her income, credit, savings or investments.

The DOB, in conjunction with state banking and credit union associations, is modernizing a training program and promoting resources for banks and credit union personnel that will raise greater awareness to the risk factors and signs of elder financial abuse and exploitation. Additionally, the DOB is recommending that each financial institution have a point person for reporting suspected financial exploitation to the state’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922-2275. Consumer-focused educational materials will also be developed and made available in elder-focused communities and programs and for outreach by the Office of Consumer Affairs and agency staff. The DOB has also launched a new web page dedicated to the topic that provides helpful information on the signs of elder financial abuse and how to report it.

“Elders need to be comfortable in seeking out a qualified financial or banking professional for advice in making informed decisions about their finances and we hope our educational efforts will instill this,” said Office of Consumer Affairs Undersecretary John Chapman. “Through training bank and credit union personnel and heightening awareness among elders, we’re combating this exploitation on two fronts.”

“Bank or credit union personnel are in a frontline position to see the signs or evidence of elder financial abuse,” said Division of Banks Commissioner Terence McGinnis. “We strongly anticipate that through training our banks’ and credit unions’ employees they will be active participants in detecting and reporting financial exploitation of their customers.”

The DOB will also undertake a review of advertising and marketing materials and contracts of reverse mortgage lenders looking for any deceptive language or illegal practices. State law requires all prospective reverse mortgage borrowers to complete an approved counseling program before obtaining a loan. Borrowers whose income and assets are below certain thresholds are required to obtain the counseling in person.

To report elder financial abuse or suspected exploitation, contact the state’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922-2275 and your local police.

Signs of Elder Financial Abuse Risk

  • Unusual Account Activity – Including large withdrawals and increased ATM usage.
  • Adding a co-signor to an elder’s account.
  • Attempts by a third party to access an elder’s account to make withdrawals.
  • Requests made to elder for forms to be notarized.
  • Closing of Certificates of Deposit without regard to penalties.
  • The appearance of forged or suspicious signatures.
  • Attempts to wire transfer large sums of money.
  • Sudden changes made to wills.
  • Family, friends or caregivers taking unanticipated interest in an elder’s finances.
  • Explanations by elder of solicitations that sound too good to be true.
  • Increased confusion about banking and financial matters.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s lemon laws, data breach reporting, and home improvement contractor program, and the state’s Do Not Call Registry. Follow the office at its blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter @Mass Consumer.