What can YOU do about Financial Elder Abuse?

Gaylene Schweitzer, VP / Compliance Officer - Scott Valley Bank


By Gaylene Schweitzer, Vice President / Compliance Officer - Scott Valley Bank

“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.” Joseph Campbell.

Our lives are touched by what happens to us and by the experiences that connect us to others. Acting upon those experiences and using our time, talents and resources to make a difference in the lives of others “best fosters the flowering of our humanity.” As a society, we have come to recognize a colored awareness ribbon pinned to a lapel as an outward expression of an individual’s commitment to a cause that has touched his or her life. When we see a yellow ribbon, we are reminded to remember and honor the sacrifices of our troops. A pink ribbon reminds us how many lives have been touched by breast cancer and it also stands as a stark reminder that the fight for a cure has yet to be won. A red ribbon draws our hearts to those in our midst who struggle with AIDS, HIV, and heart disease and to those who faithfully stand by them. The purple ribbon makes its annual debut each June when the world comes together to focus our attention on elder abuse awareness. The purple ribbon also represents a call to action and challenges each of us to learn to recognize the signs of abuse and to join in the fight to prevent it.

June is Elder Abuse Awareness MonthIt is estimated that 2.1 million older Americans (65+ years of age) are victims of exploitation, neglect, and abuse annually and that for every one case reported an additional five cases go unreported. 12.3% of all cases reported involve financial abuse and results in staggering losses approximating $2.6 billion in assets annually.

On January 1, 2007, California’s Senate Bill 1018 – the Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act of 2005 (FEAR Act) went into effect. The FEAR Act states all employees of financial institutions must report suspected financial abuse of the elderly and dependent. California’s Senate Bill 33 was signed into law in September 2011 and deleted the January 1, 2013 sunset date making the law permanent. As symbolized by the color purple, awareness and education are key. Fighting this problem and safeguarding our elder population takes more than just bank employees. We must all act as advocates and help to educate seniors before they become victims and be prepared to lend assistance and support to those who have been victimized. Please allow the story about Margaret to remind you why some many seniors need all of us to act as their advocates. (Names and details have been altered as needed to protect Margaret’s identity).

Good morning, my name is Margaret.  I am 71 years old and working hard to overcome the effects of a long illness with the hope of regaining my independence and rebuilding my life. My story began several months ago when I woke up confused and frightened and could not understand where I was or what was happening to me. I did not recognize the people around me and was unable to communicate with them. As the weeks passed, I continued to feel locked up inside of myself and found that the more I tried to concentrate on remembering things, the more agitated and frightened I became.

As I began to recover, my reality became almost as frightening to me as my illness. I learned that my son and grandchildren who had been living with me moved away and left no forwarding address or telephone number. I learned that the home where I raised my family and lived for most of my adult life had been mortgaged and lost to foreclosure. I learned that the balance in my checking account had been reduced to almost nothing. I learned that I had incurred medical bills that it would take the rest of my life to repay. I learned that the people I loved and trusted the most had been taking advantage of me for several years prior to my illness. Sadly, I also learned that I could not hold them responsible for their actions because I unwittingly became a willing participant in the financial transacations. Unfortunately, I  could not see the devastating consequences of my choices.

At that time in my life, I felt frightened and alone without a home, without any money, and now with physical disabilities that would make it difficult for me to live independently again. To my great joy, I also learned that there are people who care and are willing to be advocates for victims of elder financial abuse like me. I learned that they wear the color purple.

Margaret’s story is an example of elder financial abuse that happens to many older Americans (65+ years of age) we come into contact with each day. Recent statistics indicate that 40.4 million Americans are age 65 or older and that this segment of our population is expected to double to more than 85 million by the year 2030. 

Each of our lives has been enriched by knowing and sharing in the life experiences of an older American. We all have grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters who are, or will become, an older American. Unlike many of the awareness ribbons that represent causes that have touched lives, the color purple represents a cause that can touch us all. We each bear a moral, social and now banks bear an additional legal obligation to be prepared to meet the needs and challenges these individuals will face as they grow older. It is only through greater awareness that we can learn to recognize and stop elder abuse and it is only through greater compassion that we can make a difference in the lives of its victims.

What is elder financial abuse?

  • Financial exploitation or taking advantage of the elderly. It occurs when any person or entity, acting alone or assisting others, takes, hides or retains any property of an elder adult to a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both.

Why are the elderly targeted?

  • The elderly are generally a more trusting population
  • The elderly may be more dependent on others for help
  • They may be more isolated from a caring support group
  • The elderly have a higher incidence of confusion and dementia
  • Persons over 55 years old control over 70% of the nation’s wealth

Who are the abusers?

  • 85-90% are family members
  • The abuser may have employment problems
  • Many are financially dependent upon the elder
  • The abuser may have problems with drugs, alcohol, or mental illness
  • Abusers can be caregivers, companions, trustees, individuals with powers of attorney, financial planners, lawyers, guardians, or complete strangers

How do banks spot possible cases of elder financial abuse?

  • The elder makes changes to property titles, or other documents and is confused about the consequences of those changes
  • The elder engages in bank activity that is erratic, unusual or uncharacteristic
  • The elder engages in bank activity inconsistent with his or her ability (such as the use of an ATM card despite the fact that the customer is house-bound)
  • The elder suddenly acquires new acquaintances, particularly those who take up residence with the customer
  • The elder executes a power of attorney; and is confused by the consequences of this action
  • The elder indicates that his or her mail is no longer being delivered to the home address
  • The elder is afraid of the person who accompanies him or her to the bank and is consistently encouraged to withdraw large amounts of cash and is not allowed to speak for him or herself.
Our commitment at Scott Valley Bank is to take the time to listen and observe, and to be aware of how our older customers handle their finances. By asking careful questions and observing the elders in our lives, we can all become advocates for the prevention of elder financial abuse. Please join us in this effort to protect our friends and loved ones like Margaret.
View Scott Valley Bank - The Vault - June 2012