By Christopher Guenette

In recent years, elder abuse has become more and more prevalent with regard to the financial services industry. It is currently estimated that 1 in 20 older adults have reported some sort of financial mistreatment in the last 12 months (a staggering number, considering that estimates show a large amount of financial elder abuse mistreatment goes unreported).

Financial institutions have and continue to put some safeguards in place to minimize elder abuse and its effects on members and the community.

Consumers can do a couple key things in order to add extra protection against financial elder abuse, and while these protections do not eliminate the potential for it to occur, they can certainly aid as a deterrent.

Get to know your credit union or bank

Introduce yourself to staff and the management team at your local branch as an initial and key way to protect yourself. Bankers are trained to notice and be proactive in identifying irregular banking habits, as well as presenting solutions to help achieve financial goals and objectives. If they notice that a transaction (or series of transactions) is out of the norm, bankers will often ask questions and follow up to ensure it is reasonable. When it does not add up, there are departments in place at financial institutions that can look into these inconsistent transactions at a deeper level. Forming a relationship with several bankers at your local branch often can lead to more trust in every day transactions and more scrutiny of outside the norm transactions, both of which can be very valuable.

Work with a team of people

A big key to minimizing financial elder abuse is to work with a team of individuals that can maintain checks and balances. Talking and informing several trusted professionals about your financial wants and desires can reduce financial elder abuse greatly. The larger the percent of your personal professional team (accountant, attorney, banker, etc.) that are aware of your goals and objectives, the more likely they are to protect against and bring up concerns over variances from that plan.

Account titles are more important than you think

Titling of bank accounts can make a significant difference in the prevention of/deterrence of elder abuse. Financial products and services that are titled under trusts, joint ownership, or with a power of attorney can provide some added protection. Some of these vehicles make it tough to change or rename accounts without several different people getting involved, minimizing the chances of financial elder abuse. Always consult a trust attorney and Certified Public Accountant to find out more about the legal and tax implications of trust and power of attorney titling.

In addition to the items above there are numerous seminars and countless articles regarding financial elder abuse and the effects it has on victims. Furthermore, certain agencies and professionals focus exclusive (or significant) parts of their business or organization on the detection, prevention, and reporting of elder abuse with regards to financial services. Consulting with these agencies and professionals can help ensure financial elder abuse is as preventable as possible.

Christopher Guenette is Vice President of Retail Banking for First Citizens’ Federal Credit Union. He can be reached at Christopher.guenette@firstcitizens.org.