The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday issued an advisory for banks and credit unions on how to prevent and respond to elder abuse.

The advisory and a separate report marked the first time that a financial regulator has provided a set of voluntary "best practices" on how to fight financial exploitation of seniors, the CFPB said.

The bureau is encouraging financial institutions to use fraud detection technology and to train employees to detect and respond to suspicious activity. It suggests using "age-friendly" account features to curb the illegal or improper use of a senior's funds. Features such as opt-in limits on cash withdrawals, alerts for specific account activity and view-only access for authorized third parties are among the recommendations.

"When seniors fall prey to a scam by a stranger or to theft by a family member, they may be too embarrassed or too frail to report it," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release. "Banks and credit unions are uniquely positioned to look out for older Americans and take action to protect them."

The eight-page advisory suggests that banks and credit unions create procedures that would allow older account holders to provide advance consent for sharing information with a trusted third party.

Financial institutions also should provide information and alternatives to consumers about the risks of joint accounts, which often are used to withdraw money and subvert an intended estate plan, the advisory says.

The elderly are attractive targets because they often have assets and a regular source of income, the CFPB said. The illegal or improper use of a senior's funds, property or assets is the most common form of elder abuse and costs seniors billions of dollars a year, the bureau said.

The CFPB found that many financial institutions have already implemented the voluntary recommendations, or are considering ways to do so.

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