CFPB fights elder abuse & senior scams

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By Maureen Mahoney on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Elder financial abuse is an under-the-radar problem, but one that can have enormous consequences for seniors and their families. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), close to five percent of Americans over 60 were found to suffer from elder financial abuse by a member of their family in one year alone. Financial abuse committed by family, friends, and others cost seniors $2.9 billion in 2010. It can drain seniors of their savings and even leave them unable to pay for much-needed care.

In response, the CFPB last month released a manual that offers guidance for anyone, but particularly workers in assisted living and nursing homes, to stop financial exploitation. The manual gives advice on preventing abuse, as well as identifying and reporting it.

Elder financial abuse occurs when someone steals money from a senior, borrows money but doesn’t pay it back, or accepts money for a service without performing it. Sometimes even family members carry out this abuse. For example, the CFPB shared the following story in the manual:

“Mrs. A., who suffered a series of strokes, had named her daughter as agent under a power of attorney to pay her nursing home bills. Instead, her daughter, Lisa, wrote checks to herself and to pay for her own groceries and personal items. The daughter then moved her mother from one skilled nursing facility to another because of arrearages. An ombudsman, who became involved during the victim’s second placement, noted that the second home similarly discharged the resident and wrote off the bills. At the third nursing home, the ombudsman, adult protective services and the police directly addressed the financial exploitation of the resident and arranged stable housing for her. Prosecutors charged the daughter, and she pleaded guilty to one count of theft by swindle for taking $22,000.”

The manual also includes a list of common financial scams and advice for protecting seniors from them. Anyone can fall victim to theft, frauds, and scams, but illness and other factors can leave seniors particularly vulnerable to these crimes. For example, Alzheimer’s affects one out of every eight Americans over 65 and about half of all Americans in nursing homes suffer from dementia.

How can elder care providers spot potential financial abuse? Some signs include:

  • Missing financial documents, credit cards and checkbooks;
  • Distress and anxiety before and after visits with a relative or friend; and
  • Inability to make payments for their care.

If you work in a facility, you’re likely required by state and federal law to contact the authorities if you suspect elder financial abuse. Please be sure to talk to your compliance officers now about the steps you should take if you see any signs of abuse – even if you’re not obligated to do so by law.

This new manual is an example of the great work that the CPPB is doing to help Americans hold on to their hard-earned dollars. The CFPB has fought for consumers by issuing thoughtful guidance and rules for financial services companies, by educating consumers on financial issues, and even by taking enforcement actions against companies to shut down illegal practices.

But some members of Congress, backed by the big banks, want to pass laws that will prevent the CFPB from doing its work — like protecting seniors. Please help us shield the CFPB from attack by telling your representatives to vote NO on these bills. You can access our petition here.

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