SUNNYVALE, Calif. – A campaign designed to increase awareness and prevent financial abuse of the elderly is being launched by several credit unions and other financial institutions and the Santa Clara County Department of Aging and Adult Services. The Financial Institutions Project is based on a program developed at Star One Credit Union in Sunnyvale aimed at early detection and prevention of financial abuse. The new program involves eight financial institutions who will work with the county's Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST). The goal is to develop and initiate a plan to help credit union and bank staff members to early on recognize at-risk members and situations. Santa Clara County authorities estimated that only one in 100 incidents of financial abuse is ever reported. Authorities elsewhere report that financial exploitation is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. "In most cases, a financial institution's representatives are the first ones to notice abuse of an elderly client," the county said in a prepared release. "It is becoming increasingly important for financial institutions to be aware of this crime and train their staff appropriately." Goals for the program include the training of credit union and bank personnel to recognize financial abuse of the elderly and the establishment of procedures and policies to address those issues. "The collaborative approach to tackling the problem of elder abuse makes it possible for FAST to successfully advocate for seniors," said Betty Malks, director of the Department of Adult and Aging Services. "We are serious about preventing the financial abuse of elders, and this prevention starts with the financial institutions where elders keep their funds." Institutions which are part of the program in addition to Star One include Golden Bay Federal Credit Union, Mission City Federal Credit Union, Meriwest Credit Union, Peninsula Postal Credit Union, Santa Clara Federal Credit Union, Technology Credit Union, Valley Credit Union and Wells Fargo Bank. More financial institutions are being invited to join the group. "At Star One, we are excited about working with FAST as part of an effective team to detect financial abuse of seniors and prevent their exploitation," said Lynn Brubaker, vice president of member operations. "We invite all financial institutions to join in this noble cause for the well being of our clients." Star One, which established a Beneficiary and Retiree Services group several years ago to address the issue of elder financial abuse, served as the model for the county program. Meetings began last July between the county and financial institutions to get the program up and running. "One reason we're involved in this project is due to our aging population base," Brubaker said. "We found a need within our own membership to provide a little bit more hands-on service. "The benefit is we've been able to not only make a difference in their personal lives but we're preserving their assets," she added. Officials say the importance of the program will continue to increase with the aging of the California population. "We have a larger aging population than most other credit unions," Brubaker said. "Not everybody recognizes the need to the extent that we seem to. That's our biggest difficulty is trying to get this group together and say, `This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.' You may not realize that financial abuse is going on but there are definite signs. "We feel if we educate the staff about the signs we'll more than likely find more incidents of potential financial abuse and actually do something about it," she said. "That's what this organization is trying to do," she added. "It's just trying to trickle the education down to the people who really can have the most effect, and that's the front-line staff." According to the California Department of Aging, the population of those 60 years and over in the state is expected to reach 12.5 million by 2040, an increase of 232 percent from 1990. Beginning in 2010, one in five Californians will be 60 years of age or older, it said. Announcement of the program in Santa Clara County comes on the heels of authorities to the north in San Francisco announcing new programs to crack down on the financial and physical abuse of elderly citizens. Brubaker said similar elder financial abuse programs are already underway in Los Angeles and Marin counties. She said she is hoping that by publicizing the program here, those counties and others will join together to share information so that organizations and businesses are not duplicating efforts. "We're trying to reach out to see what's out there," Brubaker said. "If we can share our resources, then I think we're more effective in the long run." The program announcement came less than one month after the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office reported the arrest of a 48-year-old Cupertino man on charges of defrauding an 81-year-old widow out of $10,000 and her vehicle. -

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