Report: Federal agencies need to work on fighting financial abuse of elderly
November 27, 2012
By Lisa Chedekel, Connecticut Health I-Team
A few months before he died last November, Robert Matava of Unionville, a decorated World War II veteran, spoke publicly about his battle with a stealthy domestic enemy: financial exploitation of the elderly.
After his wife died, Matava had moved to Florida, entrusting his son with his estate, including the house he built and the auto repair business he started. When he returned to Unionville in 2010 to spend his remaining years at home, he said, his son “refused to let me in” and he found himself penniless.
“In all my 90 years, I couldn’t predict the abuse I’d suffer” at the hands of a family member, he had testified at a hearing convened by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is pushing legislation to strengthen detection and prosecution of elder abuse.
A new government report highlights the need for better collaboration among federal agencies, banks and state authorities to combat the kind of exploitation that Matava said he suffered. The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites estimates that seniors lose at least $2.9 billion a year to financial abuse and exploitation, and that less than a third of cases are reported to authorities.
The report exposes gaps in the nation’s strategy for preventing and prosecuting elder financial exploitation, including problems in sustaining collaborations between agencies, obtaining data on abuse, and developing expertise in financial exploitation.
Among the problems cited is the reluctance of many banks to disclose financial information that could help to identify perpetrators or stop further exploitation, on the grounds that such disclosures would violate federal privacy laws or bank policies. Adult protective services officials in the four states reviewed by the GAO — California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois — reported that they often are denied access to bank records, despite exceptions permitting disclosure to protect against fraud or to comply with civil or criminal investigations.
Also, while the federal government generally requires banks to train employees on a variety of issues, such as money laundering and information security, GAO investigators said they could find no similar requirements for banks to train employees to recognize and report elder financial exploitation.
The GAO report recommends that measures be taken “to encourage banks to identify and report suspected elder financial exploitation and to facilitate release of bank records to APS (adult protective services) and law enforcement authorities for investigating this activity.” Specifically, the report calls on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to develop a plan to teach banks nationwide how to identify and report possible financial exploitation.
“Without information to correct banks’ misconceptions about the impact of federal privacy laws on their ability to release bank records, APS and law enforcement agencies will continue to find it difficult to obtain the information they need from banks to investigate suspected cases of elder financial exploitation,” the report says.
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