Financial abuse of aging Americans has exploded into a multibillion dollar a year problem, and credit unions aim to stop it. According to research from the insurance provider MetLife, Americans over the age of 60 lost about $2.9 billion dollars from financial abuse in 2010, up 12% from the $2.6 billion lost in 2008. Credit unions are taking several steps to curb this escalating problem, including staff training to identify and report abuse, instituting new computer programs that can recognize irregular activity, and reaching out into the community to help educate vulnerable members about avoiding theft and fraud.

In light of the alarming rise in abuse, there has also been an increase in legislation designed to protect older, more vulnerable citizens. In the last two years, 22 states have enacted some form of elder financial abuse legislation, which often requires financial institutions, including credit unions, to report suspected abuse. Credit union leagues have worked closely with state legislatures to ensure that these new reporting laws protect seniors while also ensuring individual privacy protection.In Montana for example, the state credit union league worked with the state legislature to provide testimony in committees, and meet with law enforcement, and other consumer protection groups to ensure any new legislation incorporated the perspective of financial institutions who are interested in reporting abuse. As a result, two new laws were passed this year that make it easier for prosecutors to prove a senior citizen has been the victim of fraud, and that added a penalty for violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act if the victim is over 60 years of age.

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