New Federal Office Fights Financial Exploitation of Elders

By Karp, Naomi | Aging Today, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

New Federal Office Fights Financial Exploitation of Elders


Karp, Naomi, Aging Today


Shirley, an 88-year-old widow living alone, received frequent phone calls from Mike, a friendly man who told her she had won a million-dollar lottery. He convinced her that if she accompanied him to her bank to withdraw $1,800 in processing fees, she could not only collect her winnings but her son would get a Cadillac.

Celia was living independently, but had a fall and moved in with her daughter following a brief hospitalization. Over the course of several months, the daughter convinced her to sign a durable power of attorney as well as a quit claim deed to her house. The daughter drained Celia's bank account, and then cashed in a CD to buy herself a $15,000 car. By the time the case came to the attention of government agencies, Celia had no home and was living in a senior shelter.

Cases like these are all too familiar to professionals in the field of aging. Increasingly, older people are targeted by a spectrum of perpetrators. Now the first-ever federal government office dedicated to the financial health of elders is putting its muscle into fighting financial exploitation.

The Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans is part of the Consumer Education and Engagement Division of die new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The Office is run by Hubert H. (Skip) Humphrey III, who served as Minnesota's attorney general for 16 years and has a strong record on consumer protection issues.

The CFPB launched in July 2011 to ensure that markets for consumer financial products or services are fair, transparent, competitive and accessible to all consumers. Recognizing that older people need focused attention, Congress created a special office to help elders take greater control of their economic lives.

Rooting Out and Redressing Elder Exploitation

The first priority for the Office for Older Americans will be preventing, detecting and redressing financial exploitationwhether it is by providers of consumer financial products and services, other businesses, family members, caregivers or others who may be in a position to take advantage of older people. A 2010 national prevalence study found that financial mistreatment by family members is the most frequent form of elder mistreatment, with 5.2 percent of Americans ages 60 and older falling victim to it. The recent New York State Under the Radar study showed that only about 1 in 43 cases of financial exploitation are addressed by agencies and programs serving elder-abuse victims. We need to change that.

Our office plans to approach prevention by raising public awareness through our website, in public forums, through webinars and other media; identifying and disseminating programs and practices that work; and bringing together federal and state agencies, law enforcement, adult protective services, financial institutions, the aging network and elders to strategize and implement those strategies. …

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