INDIANAPOLIS (TheStreet) -- It may be time to ditch this writing gig, because an officer at a Nigerian bank sent an email on Monday ("My Dear Beneficiary!") telling me that a bunch of big shots "at the World Bank in Switzerland" have put aside $45.5 million for me. All I need to do is fill out a few forms and send a $300 check for the shipping of my ATM card, which will let me withdraw "a minimum" of $50,000 a day.
So, OK, the World Bank is actually in Washington, D.C. and maybe I should be skeptical that my email pal dropped the name of the wrong guy when he said the president of the World Bank had set up a payment system for me.
You and I know this is a scam. But our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers don't always know. And they fall for this stuff way too often.
An association of state securities regulators had its annual meeting in Indianapolis this week, and the issue of seniors and their money was at the top of their worry list. The North American Securities Administrators Association, or Nasaa, announced Tuesday that 16 regulators, medical experts, academics and financial professionals would be part of a new advisory council to tackle issues of financial abuse of the elderly -- in particular, those with diminished capacity.
More than a third of state regulators' enforcement cases involve victims 62 years and older, and the group's leaders have only to look at demographics to know their caseload is going to swell as baby boomers increasingly reach retirement age.
Thirty-five percent of people 71 and older have mild cognitive impairment or full dementia, according to Robert E. Roush, director of the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center. Seniors with mild cognitive impairment make four times the financial errors than those without the condition, he said.
What to do? Among possibilities discussed this week were exemptions from a brokerage firm's obligation to execute a trade if they see evidence that a scamster is after a senior's money. Another idea: To find ways the firms can alert family members or regulators without violating privacy obligations. Katrina Cavalli, a spokeswoman for the Wall Street lobbying group Sifma, or Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said in an email that the group was "looking at legislative or regulatory opportunities" that would help advisers and brokers protect their clients.
I have to admit that I'm having a hard time processing Wall Street's new concern to protect seniors when the industry has shown itself to be an avaricious exploiter of so many of its customers in the past.
But the ideas that are getting kicked around aren't bad ones, either. So for the moment, let's take the industry at its word that it's genuinely concerned about looking after its elderly clients who are cognitively impaired.
For starters, brokerage firms have to figure out which seniors need their oversight. A senior who withdraws all his money and runs off to Bimini could be making an informed decision that he "wants to live La Vida Loca," said Bryan J. Lantagne, director of the Massachusetts Securities Division, on a panel on Sunday. But it could also mean the customer has decision-making impairment or is under undue influence, he added. "How do we determine that?