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Toolkits - Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

According to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, "Elder financial exploitation is one of the most common and devastating forms of elder abuse. It can destroy the financial security of an older adult at a vulnerable stage of life. Financial exploitation can negatively impact physical and emotional health, or shorten an older person’s lifespan."  This Compliance Toolkit has been developed to assist member credit unions and stakeholders in combatting elder exploitation.


Elder financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets. Examples include, but are not limited to, cashing an elderly person's checks without authorization or permission; forging an older person's signature; misusing or stealing an older person's money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney.

The Credit Union’s Role

Often, credit unions are quick to suspect elder financial exploitation based on staff familiarity with their elderly members. Credit unions have the potential to be the “first line of defense” against financial abuse, by identifying the abuse at its outset, before the elder’s assets have been dissipated. The primary roles of the credit union are the protection of its members’ assets and the prevention of financial losses. Credit unions can take steps to protect elderly and vulnerable members from financial exploitation and fraud by training staff to recognize the types of financial scams, the red flags of potential abuse and what to do when fraud is suspected.

Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), signs and symptoms of financial or material exploitation include but are not limited to:

  • sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder;
  • the inclusion of additional names on an elder's bank signature card;
  • unauthorized withdrawal of the elder's funds using the elder's ATM card;
  • abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents;
  • unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions;
  • substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources;
  • discovery of an elder's signature being forged for financial transactions or for the titles of his/her possessions;
  • sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder's affairs and possessions;
  • unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family;
  • the provision of services that are not necessary; and
  • an elder's report of financial exploitation.

Next Steps

  1. Learn more and get certified through the AARP BankSafe program
  2. Develop, implement, and maintain internal protocols and procedures for protecting account holders from elder financial exploitation
  3. Train employees
  4. Detect elder financial exploitation by harnessing technology
  5. Report suspicious activity
  6. Protect older account holders from financial exploitation
  7. Collaborate with other stakeholders

Suspicious Activity Reporting

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory in February of 2011 to assist the financial industry in reporting instances of financial exploitation of the elderly. The valuable role credit unions can play in alerting appropriate authorities to suspected elder financial exploitation has received increased attention at the state level; this focus is consistent with an upward trend at the federal level in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) describing instances of suspected elder financial exploitation. The advisory contains examples of "red flags" based on activity identified by various state and federal agencies and provides a common narrative term that will assist law enforcement in better identifying suspected cases of financial exploitation of the elderly reported in SARs.

In order to assist law enforcement in its effort to target instances of financial exploitation of the elderly, FinCEN requests that financial institutions select the appropriate characterization of suspicious activity in the Suspicious Activity Information section of the SAR form and include the term "elder financial exploitation" in the narrative portion of all relevant SARs filed. The narrative should also include an explanation of why the institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that the activity is suspicious. It is important to note that the potential victim of elder financial exploitation should not be reported as the subject of the SAR. Rather, all available information on the victim should be included in the narrative portion of the SAR.

Additional Resources

Resources from the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection:

Money Smart Resources:

Resources from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

Resources from the State of New Hampshire:

Resources from the State of Delaware:

Resources from the State of Rhode Island: