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CUNA details CU efforts to curb elder financial abuse
WASHINGTON (8/22/12)--Credit unions, state credit union leagues and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) have coordinated to curb elder financial abuse, and the positive steps taken by these groups are detailed in a new CUNA comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Just over 14 million credit union members are age 62 or older, according to CUNA estimates. This represents 20% of all U.S. credit union members.

Credit unions provide a full range of financial services to these members and their families, including financial management, retirement planning, and credit counseling, CUNA Regulatory Counsel Dennis Tsang wrote. The CUNA comment letter also noted that many credit unions provide unique credit union accounts and services that are tailored to the needs of seniors, such as checking and savings accounts with favorable terms or rates, and additional customer service options. Many credit unions also provide elder abuse information and additional resources on their websites and account statements.

CUNA in the letter notes that CUNA and others in the system have shared vital compliance and training information on the topic of elder financial abuse. CUNA recently outlined steps credit unions can take to comply with state elder financial abuse laws, and how employees can identify potential cases of abuse, in a Credit Union Magazine article.

The elder abuse initiatives also extend beyond the credit union system, CUNA noted in the letter. CUNA said it is working with other partners and government entities to coordinate initiatives and share best practices for reducing elder financial abuse. One way noted by CUNA is its participation in the U.S. Treasury's Go Direct program. Go Direct encourages Americans receiving social security and other benefits to use direct deposit. Using direct deposit in this manner enhances safety and efficiency, Go Direct has said.

The CUNA comment letter is in response to the CFPB's request for information on any financial education, counseling, or tailored personal finance management programs that are offered by credit unions and other institutions. The CFPB has also asked for public comment on any fraudulent or deceptive practices that target elderly Americans and their families.

The CFPB last year established its Office of Older Americans, and that office has the authority to make legislative and regulatory recommendations to Congress on best practices for aiding senior financial literacy efforts.

CUNA said it supports efforts by the CFPB to help seniors avoid financial exploitation and to encourage responsible decisions regarding financial management. However, the CFPB should recognize and consider how to protect the needs of seniors, while minimizing additional compliance burdens on credit unions, CUNA said. "Credit unions must currently comply with applicable state elder financial abuse laws, which impose mandatory or permissive reporting, as well as privacy laws, the Bank Secrecy Act, and other requirements. While credit unions support the objectives to reduce elder abuse and must comply with applicable laws and regulations, they are nonetheless concerned that the laws and regulations they must comply with continue to expand, in number as well as in complexity," CUNA added.

In the comment letter, CUNA encouraged the CFPB to coordinate any elder abuse and consumer protection efforts it undertakes with various federal and state regulators to minimize compliance burdens for credit unions.

CUNA also encouraged the agency to continue to work with credit unions and state credit union leagues.

Signs of elder financial abuse can include:

  • Large, unexplained withdrawals from accounts, or transfers between accounts that the older person cannot explain;
  • Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents;
  • Missed appointments or unpaid bills;
  • Abrupt changes to a will or power of attorney; and
  • Unusual transfer of assets to others.
A recent Investor Protection Trust survey of financial planners, securities regulators, adult protective services workers, medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and others who deal with older Americans found that effectively all of those that responded (99%) are concerned by the potential for elder financial abuse.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2011 noted a sharp increase in the number of financial institutions that filed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on elder financial abuse. The CFPB has noted that an estimated $2.9 billion was stolen from financially exploited senior citizens in 2010, and reported instances of financial theft from seniors grew by 12% between 2008 and 2010.

For the full CUNA comment letter, use the resource link.


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