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CFPBs next target Elder financial abuse
WASHINGTON (6/15/12)--The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has asked for public comment on any fraudulent or deceptive practices that target elderly Americans and their families, and for information on financial products, services and literacy efforts that help combat these types of scams.

"We want to know what programs exist and how effective they are," the CFPB said in a Thursday release.

The agency said comments could focus on what resources are provided to help seniors vet any financial advisors and planners they may hire. Information on how financial education, financial counseling and management programs can be tailored to meet the needs of senior citizens and those that care for them has also been requested by the CFPB.

The CFPB will accept comments for 60 days after its request is published in the Federal Register, which will likely bring the comment period to a close around mid-August.

Skip Humphrey, head of the CFPB's Office of Older Americans, noted that an estimated $2.9 billion was stolen from financially exploited senior citizens in 2010. Reported instances of financial theft from seniors grew by 12% between 2008 and 2010, he said.

In a separate release, the CFPB said older Americans can protect themselves from some forms of financial abuse by granting power of attorney to a trusted family member. However, the CFPB cautioned, seniors should be careful when they decide to cede that type of power.

Potential signs of elder financial abuse, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said in warnings, can include large ATM withdrawals, debit transactions that are not consistent with a customer or member's normal activities, and sudden non-sufficient fund activity. Credit unions and other financial service providers should also be aware of caregivers that take a sudden interest in a senior citizen's financial activities, caregivers that attempt to speak for the senior citizen, or caregivers that refuse to leave a senior citizen's side when they are discussing financial matters.

FinCEN in 2011 reported a sharp increase in the number of financial institutions that filed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) related to elder financial abuse.

The Maine Credit Union League and the Northwest Credit Union Association are among those that have supported elderly financial abuse prevention legislation in their respective states, and more than 20 states now have laws requiring financial institutions to report elder abuse.

Maryland became the latest to add such laws to its books last month. The Maryland law will require credit unions and other financial institutions to report any suspicions of elder abuse to Adult Protective Services or local law enforcement within 24 hours by phone, and to later follow up in writing. Financial institutions that fail to do so would face a penalty of as much as $5,000. The law is scheduled to go into effect in October.

Credit unions can also help prevent financial exploitation of the elderly by participating in the U.S. Treasury's GoDirect federal benefit direct deposit program. That program helps seniors avoid potential instances of fraud by electronically depositing federal benefit payments into user accounts. The Credit Union National Association is a GoDirect partner.
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