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Headshot of Kendra KuehnWhat’s Happening in Financial Exploitation? More Tools and Resources!

by Kendra Kuehn, MSW, National Adult Protective Services Association

Financial exploitation, whether by a family member or stranger, can have devastating impacts on any victim. APS workers know too well the toll exploitation takes on its clients. In an analysis of 2018 data from the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System’s (NAMRS), financial exploitation allegations were the third most frequently reported (following self-neglect and neglect) type of maltreatment. An August 2020 report by Comparitech estimates the loss due to elder fraud and exploitation is $148.6 billion each year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) analysis of elder financial exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports found that older adults who knew the suspect lost more than those victimized by strangers. Despite these sobering figures, greater awareness of financial exploitation and tools to assist APS, their partners, and clients is growing.

COVID-19 and Financial Exploitation

As with natural disasters and other uncertain events, fraudsters are exploiting the increased vulnerability of people during the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing and many staying home, raising awareness and protecting against financial exploitation has become even more difficult. The Federal Trade Commission provides a general scam alert site and email updates that can help APS keep up with changes. This includes a blog article by Lois Greisman, FTC Elder Justice Coordinator, and Michael Herndon, CFPB Acting Assisting Director of the Office for Older Americans, highlighting what older adults should be aware of when looking for help during the pandemic. An infographic on contact tracing calls clearly outlines red flags to look out for such as callers insisting on payment or requiring a social security number. Other videos, social media pieces, and factsheets are available on the FTC COVID-19 page that address scams related to Economic Impact Payments, vaccinations, test kits, and other pandemic specific areas. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides in-depth information on Economic Impact Payments including basic scam awareness articles, posters, videos, and social media pieces. In developing COVID-19 fraud awareness campaigns or just basic materials for clients, be sure to check these out as well as staying up to date with the Administration for Community Living’s COVID-19 resource page and the APS Technical Assistance Resource Center’s COVID-19 resource page.

Partnership Tools: Elder Fraud Prevention and Response Networks

Whether in “normal” periods, natural disasters, or a pandemic, partnerships and teams are essential. The CFPB’s “Fighting Elder Financial Exploitation through Community Networks” report and resource guide defines a network as “a sustained and largely voluntary collaboration or partnership that works to prevent, detect, and/or respond to elder financial exploitation.” Networks have improved responses to cases, increased reporting, enhanced member’s abilities and capacity, and improved partner connection and coordination. Programs should look at the type of network that would be most useful and effective in their community. CFPB’s report noted that networks vary in purpose including consumer and professional education, case review, coordination between services, and specialized support such as Financial Abuse Specialist Teams (FASTs).

The CFPB resource guide for networks and teams includes everything from  start-up planning to ongoing meeting facilitation. There is also a comprehensive list of national resources on financial exploitation that are useful whether or not you have a network currently. Recognizing that successful networks require resources such as a coordinator or other support, CFPB provides some initial ideas to get stakeholders thinking about where to get funding ranging from Victims of Crime Act grants to local service groups. Contact CFPB’s elder networks team with questions or for more information. The Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative also provides a Multidisciplinary Team Technical Assistance Center including a locator map, peer support listserv, webinars, a guide and toolkit for case review teams, and consultations. For specific information on FASTs check out the resources at the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Financial Institution Tools: Trusted Contact

In 2018, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) approved a series of rules to allow brokers to adopt measures to protect older and other vulnerable adults. Some states have adopted similar rules. One piece is allowing investors to identify a “trusted contact.” A trusted contact is a person the firm is allowed to contact in certain circumstances such as suspected exploitation or fraud. In the 2019 assessment of effective senior investment protection program practices, FINRA identified additional practices firms had taken on related to trusted contacts. These precautions included advising registered representatives not to reach out to trusted contacts that had been removed by the customer or were believed to be engaged in exploitation of the customer. Firms also developed policies and procedures to have customers confirm or update the trusted contact person annually. Understanding what protections financial institutions already have in place and highlighting what others in the industry are doing can help build awareness of financial exploitation.

Investigation Tools: The Latest on Records

Financial records are essential to exploitation cases but sometimes can be a challenge to obtain. In 2019, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) template for requesting records from banks and credit unions was expanded to include the securities industry. The materials include an official request form that includes both federal statute and room for the state statute, a letter introducing APS, a follow up letter if an institution refuses to release records, and a letter requesting extension on a disbursement/transaction hold. These materials have gone through a vetting process with national industry associations and are designed to be adapted by programs across the country. A good place to start is to introduce your program and the materials to financial institutions before you even need to submit a request.

A concern often heard from financial institutions is confidentiality. The HelpVul platform is working to address this issue. HelpVul is funded by the Department of Justice’s Office of Victim Services. Partners for the project are the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College, EverSafe, NAPSA, the Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association, and the University of Texas. It is a secure web platform to connect APS, state securities regulators, and financial institutions. HelpVul allows institutions to refer cases to APS or state securities regulators, upload documents, and communicate through secure messaging.

Once APS receives financial records, investigation analysis can still be daunting, especially if investigators do not have access to a forensic accountant. The Senior Abuse Financial Tracking and Accounting (SAFTA) tool was produced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and supported by the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative to help law enforcement investigations. The Elder Justice Initiative has worked with APS professionals to test whether the SAFTA would also help APS workers. SAFTA is a Microsoft Excel based tool that walks a user through entering information about the client, alleged perpetrator, and transactions. The tool helps create useful tables and charts that may assist in the investigation and making the case for further prosecution. The User Guide provides helpful information on how to use the tool and creating charts. The National White Collar Crime Center is also available for technical assistance, further details are available on the IACP Elder Abuse resource page.

These are just a few of the tools and resources to assist in addressing financial exploitation as awareness and recognition of the issue increases. We want to recognize your hard work and dedication on these complex cases. Do you have a tool or practice you find essential? Let us know or share on a peer to peer call!

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