Missouri's CUs Part of Program Aimed At Curbing Financial Abuse of Elderly

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One elderly man had struggled with alcohol before losing his paycheck to two young sisters. Another elderly woman with slight dementia cried as she told a teller that her daughter was stealing from her. One daughter convinced her ailing mother to take thousands of dollars from her account.

It's called elder abuse, and many credit union tellers bear witness to the crime even if they are often unaware of it. Now a group that includes the Missouri Credit Union Association, AARP, state health officials and various law enforcement agencies are seeking to raise tellers' awareness.

MOSAFE stands for Missourians Stopping Adult Financial Exploitation and is designed to teach front-line staff how to spot theft of funds from members who might not be able to help themselves.

Missouri CU Association VP of Public and Legislative Affairs Amy McLard said the league was approached by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to assist in establishing the program. The Missouri league had already been teaching elder abuse prevention to member credit unions. "We did see this as a natural step for us," she said.

MOSAFE provides Missouri credit unions with a brochure, an educational DVD, a 30-page resource manual, and a PowerPoint presentation. MOSAFE defines financial exploitation as "the illegal use of a vulnerable adult's resources for another person's gain or profit." A vulnerable adult is most likely at least 60 years old or disabled between the ages of 18 and 59. These victims often lack physical or mental capacity to make sound decisions, creating the opportunity for criminals. In Missouri, fiscal year 2002 to 2004, financial institutions reported nearly 100 cases each year to state authorities.

Sadly, officials report that adult children victimize their parents in fully 60% of substantiated cases investigated by state agencies. Moreover, this type of crime doesn't necessarily involve wealthy parents, but is more closely connected to access and proximity, which causes the victim to lower their defenses.

McLard said these types of crimes are underreported as many cases go unnoticed for a long time or victims are reluctant to tell anyone they were exploited. Plus, some elderly members can be involved in complex emotional relationships with the person involved.

"They're embarrassed or they don't want a loved one to get in trouble," she said.

Experts in Missouri say that victims of financial exploitation tend to be socially or physically isolated, of advanced age, and may be vulnerable due to cognitive, physical or sensory impairments.

Victims could also suffer from more than one type of abuse or neglect; be reluctant to admit that his or her loved one is an abuser; they might also be afraid to report abuse due to fear of further abuse, nursing home placement, or abandonment.

Perpetrators often have close access to the victim; tend to be a younger adult or a relative, especially an adult child, and tend to be male.

The goal for credit unions with the MOSAFE program is fourfold: to establish a protocol for screening and reporting suspicious incidents; teach how to respond after learning the reason for suspicious behavior; offering safer choices for vulnerable members such as helping them avoid the use of joint accounts if possible; and how to alert authorities (there is an 800-number).

The state of Missouri has enacted legislation protecting financial institution employees who report abuse.

WARNING SIGNS & MORE INFO

Among the warning signs for tellers of elder abuse: signatures that seem forged or unusual; a vulnerable adult not remembering or understanding recent transactions; an abrupt increase in credit card activity or bounced checks or financial statements being sent to an address other than the vulnerable adult's home.

Credit unions interested in the MOSAFE program can contact Amy McLard with the Missouri Credit Union Association at 800-392-3074.

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