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Ohio Banks Can Report Suspected Elder Financial Abuse

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins affirm that, thanks to new regulations in the state, Ohio banks, credit unions and other financial institutions are now able to report suspicious activity in the accounts of senior citizens. Previously, these types of agencies had to adhere to state and federal privacy laws, which made reporting suspicions much more difficult.

Specifically, agencies were worried that reporting such activity would violate the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act), which provides privacy protections against Americans’ financial information. The federal law dictates what banks and credit unions may or may not disclose to third parties, among other provisions.

Regulators in Ohio want to ensure that banks, credit unions, brokerage companies and insurance companies are aware of how critical they are in preventing fraud against their customers. Many senior citizens in the United States have been banking at the same institution or in the same city for decades, and often have personal relationships with the people that work there.

Employees can use this personal recognition and trust to more easily spot irregular transactions, unusual behavior or abnormal account activity. They would also be able to spot suspicious activity more quickly and clearly than family members, friends or caregivers.

The Ohio Attorney General stated that better clarity from regulators can substantially help investigators, lawyers and others trying to prevent or prosecute financial abuse of elders. Banking groups are also hopeful about the new guidance, as it gives financial institutions a higher level of comfort in dealing with law enforcement agencies.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Bankers League stated that the guidance will particularly help smaller banks in more rural areas, which, as noted above, often establish long-standing and intimate relationships with customers. Employees at smaller banks are usually more tuned-in to their customers’ routines, patters, and habits, and are therefore in a better position to sense if something is wrong.

In California, two state senators recently urged Governor Jerry Brown to sign three bills that would help prevent financial abuse of senior citizens. The first bill, SB 543, is sponsored by the District Attorney in San Diego, and would clarify an ambiguous law and treat elder theft with the same level of seriousness as theft from anyone else. SB 543 would confirm that elder theft is a “qualifying prior offense” when sentencing someone to prison, ensuring criminals are prosecuted to the fullest extent.

The second bill, AB 140, would update the definition of “undue influence,” in terms of financial abuse of senior citizens. Surprisingly, this definition has not been updated since 1872, and is in dire need to modernization. Claims of undue influence, particularly when made on behalf of someone else, can be difficult to prove (not least of all because these conversations and transactions take place behind closed doors). It is time to bring the definition of undue influence into the 21st century.

The third California bill sent to the Governor for signing is AB 477, which would require public notaries to report any suspicions of financial elder abuse. Violation of the reporting requirement is punishable by a civil penalty. Existing California law already authorizes clergy members, law enforcement officers, health practitioners, care custodians, and adult protective services employees to report suspected elder abuse.

The bill would add notaries to that list, and would require a county adult protective services agency to provide the notary with instructional materials regarding abuse and neglect of an elderly person, along with their obligation to report. Governor Brown has until October 12, 2013 to either sign or veto these bills.

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins fully support these measures and commend California legislators for sponsoring them. The abuse and neglect of our nation’s senior citizens, whether it be financial, physical or mental, should not be tolerated, and we should be taking every effort to prevent it. If you or a loved one suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of a caregiver, you may be entitled to compensation , and should contact an experienced attorney today for a free legal consultation.