On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Georgia’s credit unions join the rest of the country and the globe in recognizing and opposing elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
“I would say it’s a pretty steady trend we see among our elder members,” said Cindy Turner, vice president of compliance in the Enterprise Risk Management Department at LGE Community Credit Union in Atlanta, Ga. “And I think the problem is going to be on the rise because of the growth in that age category.”
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the number of Americans over 65 years old will nearly double by 2050, growing from 43.1 million in the most recent census to 83.7 million in 2050. That creates new victims for those hoping to abuse or defraud the elderly.
As it is, studies suggest that 10 percent of seniors may suffer some form of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Other studies show older adults may suffer billions in losses because of financial fraud.
Turner said Georgia’s credit unions understand those trends and are uniquely positioned to help older members who may be suffering from financial abuse and fraud.
“We know our members,” she said. “And I believe we tend to have more of a relationship with our members than other financial institutions. We’re more likely to notice when something is wrong.”
Dina Thomas, CEO of First Reliance Federal Credit Union in Athens, Ga., said her staff noticed something was amiss when a woman came into the credit union recently and asked to remove all the money from her mother’s account.
When staff members said she’d have to bring her mother by to authorize the transaction, the daughter said the elderly woman had fallen and was unable to come in. The staff insisted and eventually the daughter returned with her elderly mother in tow.
The older woman had bruises on her face and wasn’t saying much.
Because First Reliance is a small credit union – serving fewer than 3,000 members – the staff knew others in the elderly woman’s family. They denied the daughter’s request and immediately called other family to verify the older woman wasn’t being abused.
“We’re very fortunate that we can keep an eye on those types of members,” Thomas said. “We know them personally and we know what kinds of financial patterns they usually exhibit. In the past, we’ve been able to catch when something looks out of sync with their spending habits.”
LGE Community Credit Union is significantly larger than First Reliance. The credit union serves more than 100,000 members. But Turner said LGE Community and other large credit unions are still uniquely positioned to help detect and prevent elder financial exploitation.
“We train our staff to care. We make sure they recognize the signs of a financially abused or defrauded member and that they know how to react,” Turner said. “We also use software behind the scenes that helps identify if something odd is going on with an account that could signify elder abuse.”
Both Turner and Thomas said they’ve not only reported elder abuse to the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging Services, but have also checked with members’ families to make sure they were aware of the problems.
Tuner said that’s why credit unions make effective warriors against the abuse of elderly adults.
“We’re here to serve them as a member,” she said. “We don’t see them as just another customer or fee generator. We’re here to care.”
To report any kind of elder abuse in Georgia, call the Division of Aging Services at 1-866-55AGING or visit https://aging.georgia.gov/report-elder-abuse.
- 5 signs of Financial Exploitation Among the Elderly:
- Lack of knowledge or confusion about major financial issues. Be wary if a previously sharp older person suddenly can’t remember making major transactions they allegedly authorized, including large withdrawals. If they have begun to experience diminished mental capacity, their finances should be monitored closely to prevent irrational spending. But the lapses could also be occurring because somebody else has been acting fraudulently, forging signatures on withdrawal slips and stealing money from his or her account.
- Sudden changes in financial situations.If an older person on a steady, fixed income suddenly can’t seem to pay their bills or afford the basics, that should raise red flags for family members and friends. Check to make sure nobody is stealing or scamming money out of the elderly person’s accounts.
- Suspicious behavior in family members and/or close confidants.Unfortunately, family members and close friends are often at fault when an elderly person is financially exploited. Other family members and confidants should become suspicious if a person especially close to the elderly person suddenly makes a lifestyle change, including driving a new car or quitting his or her job. It should also be considered suspicious if the family member constantly answers for the elderly person when questions regarding money arise.
- Abrupt changes in will or other financial documents. Family members and friends should pay close attention if an elderly person makes an abrupt change to his or her will. Make sure he or she can explain why they made the change and double check to make sure that change holds water. Too often, elderly adults can be bullied or scammed into changing their wills and other financial paperwork by people they believe to be trustworthy.
- Procuring services that aren’t necessary. Check into any person or company offering expensive services to an older person that don’t seem necessary. It’s possible that individual or entity might actual be preying upon the trusting nature of older adults – not performing a helpful service.
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