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5 Ways To Protect Older Relatives From Financial Abuse

In September, seven federal regulatory agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, issued new guidelines aimed at making it easier for financial institutions to report suspected incidents of financial abuse of older adults. As these regulatory agencies point out, financial professionals are often ideally placed to detect such incidents, but family members also have a key role to play.

The seven regulatory agencies clarified provisions of Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires financial institutions to notify customers before providing non-public information about them to third parties. The new guidelines make it clear that this requirement does not apply to reporting suspected financial abuse of older customers to the appropriate federal, state or local authorities.

A vulnerable population

Between their accumulated assets and sometimes-diminished cognitive faculties, older adults can be prime targets for various scams designed to relieve them of their money. Financial professionals serving those customers can help identify suspicious activity, but they cannot be expected to be constant watchdogs. Family members can help protect their older relatives in several ways as well. Here are five examples:
  1. Keep an ongoing dialogue about money. Raising specific questions about financial activity can be awkward unless you establish a regular dialogue about the subject. This will make your older relatives more comfortable about coming to you with any questions about money decisions, and will help you gauge the degree of deterioration in their ability to understand financial matters.
  2. Encourage older relatives to keep up regular record-keeping. Make sure good banking habits, like regularly balancing checking accounts and savings accounts, don't slip. The activity will help keep you older relatives mentally sharp, and provide them with an opportunity to spot suspicious transactions.
  3. Ask permission to have online access. If you suspect a relative is having trouble keeping up with bank statements, ask him or her if you can have access to account statements online. This will let you look over your relative's shoulder a little bit to see if there is any unusual account activity.
  4. Review news stories about recent scams. Have open discussions of recent scams you've each heard about. This will give your older relatives an idea of what sort of approaches to watch out for, and remind them to be on their guard generally.
  5. Limit the amount of money readily available in their checking accounts. Because checking accounts are the most frequent point of access to a person's money, they are also vulnerable to theft via everything from old-fashioned check forgery to high-tech ATM "skimmers" that can appropriate debit card information. Limit the potential for damage by keeping checking account balances just enough to meet immediate needs, transferring any excess to savings accounts.

As young people grow up, they are often dependent on the financial support and guidance of their parents or other older relatives. As those relatives reach their later years, protecting them from financial abuse is one way you can return the favor.

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