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Seniors now have federal protection, the Senior Safe Act, from financial abuse from either within a family or support system or by scammers taking advantage of them. Tens of billions of dollars each year are illegally taken from US seniors and these numbers only reflect the crimes being reported.
|Issue||Percentage of cases reported|
|Family member, trustee, or power of attorney taking advantage||23%|
|Combined diminished capacity and third-party abuse||12%|
|Friend, housekeeper, or caretaker taking advantage||<1%|
SOURCE: North American Securities Administrators Association
Often a senior does not report financial abuse or identity theft because they are unaware, embarrassed, or worse, they think that someone will deem them mentally unfit and they might be “put away” as a consequence of having been exploited. While these are real issues and fears experienced by elderly people, the scale of financial exploitation is so great it has to be addressed. This is why the enacted Senior Safe Act, coupled with the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (signed into law October 2017), as well as two Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rule changes (which have already taken effect), will provide the legal protections and financial industry framework our senior population need and deserve. One of the most important aspects of the new FINRA rules is the ability for member firms to place a temporary hold on the disbursement of funds or securities when there is a reasonable belief that a senior is experiencing financial exploitation, thus protecting assets before they are taken from the senior. This new rule, in conjunction with the Senior Safe Act, can help keep seniors’ assets from vanishing.
The Senior Safe Act, which was originally initiated by Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, is based on the already existing program in that state with the same name. Similar to the Maine program, the federal legislation allows insurance and financial advisors to report incidence of suspected cases of financial fraud involving their senior clients to financial institutions, who in turn could pass the suspicions on to the proper authorities.
As long as the insurance and financial institutions elevate concerns in good faith and their employees have received the proper training, the law will protect the institution and its workers from liability in a civil or administrative proceeding where information had been presented to authorities in the hopes of protecting a senior client from financial abuses or identity theft. The training includes a collaborative effort between state and federal regulators, financial firms and legal organizations, credit unions, broker-dealers, insurance companies and agencies, and investment advisers to educate employees on how to spot and report suspected elder financial abuse.
Seniors who are most active in communicating with a trusted professional third party about their finances are the least likely to fall victim to financial fraud. Counterintuitively, most financial fraud happens to seniors who do not display signs of cognitive impairment. Senior participation with professional and properly trained employees of financial institutions is the back-story of this bill. All of the legal protections of the Senior Safe Act will achieve nothing if there is no participation by seniors.
It is advisable to find a trusted professional adviser to help protect seniors against financial abuse and identity theft. The Senior Safe Act should make it much easier for seniors to find a properly trained individual who will monitor their financial accounts and be able to report signs of potential trouble to authorities. That trusted individual will be able to identify the warning signs of common scams and educate seniors as to how best to protect themselves; such as how often to check credit ratings for signs of identity theft, reviewing financial statements, identifying common phone and online scams, and more. The laws are in place to help seniors stay protected. Get protected by becoming more involved in your own personal financial world. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning and participation. If you have questions or would like to discuss your estate planning situation, please contact our Heber Springs, Arkansas office at 501-365-3934.