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New banking technologies increase risk of elder abuse

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The elderly are much more likely to be the targets of financial abuse than other groups and this is only getting worse with technological developments in banking and an aging population, according to Banking Ombudsman Deborah Battell.

"Elder financial abuse is only going to increase as our population ages, more people have dementia and banking becomes more digital. While we observe banks looking out for the signs and reporting cases to third parties in some circumstances, they will need to be even more vigilant in future. And the elderly themselves, as well as their families, will also need to be more active in detecting and preventing financial abuse.

"It is unfortunately not unusual for financial abuse to be evident in complaints to the Banking Ombudsman Scheme. Because I’ve been so concerned, I’ve been speaking with older people across the country to let them know what to look out for and what they can do to better manage their financial affairs and look out for signs of elder abuse.

"Some elderly people have told me that banking is changing too quickly for them - they simply can’t keep up. They’re having difficulties with internet and mobile banking, and are afraid of losing the ability to use cheques and receive paper statements. They’re also afraid of losing control of their finances - new technologies put older people at even greater risk because they depend on others for help.

"Older people are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse because they often have money or assets, may be isolated or have disabilities, including dementia, and because they are less likely to report abuse or take action against the perpetrators.

"Elder Abuse Awareness Week is a good time for the elderly, their families and banks to check what they can do to detect and prevent financial abuse, whether this is by fraudsters or family members. We have also updated our Quick Guide on Financial Abuse of the Elderly to assist," Ms Battell said.

Helpful tips for the elderly to protect their money include:

- keep debit and credit cards in a safe place

- don’t give out PINs - banks never ask customers to disclose their PIN details

- keep bank PINs unique - don’t use the same PIN for anything else

- keep a limited amount of money in current accounts

- make sure accounts with more money cannot be accessed using an EFTPOS / ATM card

- don’t open emails from people you don’t know

- don’t forward money to strangers

- never allow yourself to be pressured into financial decision

- monitor accounts regularly

- report any concerns to your bank.

Family members can be on the lookout for suspicious signs such as:

- unpaid bills, or overdue rent, when someone else is supposed to be paying the bills

- unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions

- new "best friends"

- deliberate isolation of an older person resulting in the caregiver alone having total control.

Family and bank staff can look out for:

- unusual changes in bank account balances

- unexplained large sum withdrawals

- inclusion of additional names on bank accounts

- unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family

- changes made to accounts without the elderly person present

- signatures that do not resemble the older person's, or transactions signed when he/she can no longer write

- customers appearing forgetful.

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