Financial services employees are often in the best, and sometimes the only position, to recognise financial elder abuse as it occurs, according to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) Australia’s FOS Approach to financial elder abuse.
“As our society ages, FOS is seeing a greater number of disputes involving older Australians and their financial services providers,” said Philip Field, Lead Ombudsman, Banking and Finance.
“According to a 2016 Australian Institute of Family Studies research report, it is likely that between 2% and 10% of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, and that financial abuse appears to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people.
“Our new FOS Approach to financial elder abuse is designed to assist financial institutions to adopt best practice and look for ‘red flags’ to help prevent financial elder abuse. This abuse can involve the misuse of, or theft from, a bank account or other financial services product. Financial services employees need to be encouraged to trust their instincts when it comes to recognising this form of abuse.
“At FOS we resolve disputes based on the specific facts of each dispute, and what is fair in all the circumstances. Misuse of funds or assets of the elderly person can be by fraud or forgery, or by abusing the incapacity, trust or confidence of the vulnerable elderly person.
“It appears that abusers are most likely to be relatives and caregivers. Less commonly, they are opportunistic strangers who ‘befriend’ the elderly person or who make contact through a scam.
“A financial services provider that subscribes to the Code of Banking Practice acknowledges customers with special needs and has an obligation to exercise the care and skill of a diligent and prudent lender. Clause seven of the Code states that a provider will take reasonable measures to enhance an older person’s access to transaction services.
“At FOS we accept that this is good industry practice that should apply to all financial services providers, regardless of whether they actually subscribe to the Code.
“Bank or other employees who suspect financial abuse need to take a number of steps including talking to the elderly person separately and in private. They should discretely discuss the financial transaction. We also outline a number of other steps including where guardians have been appointed and a Power of Attorney is active.
“We can award compensation and where the financial abuse results in funds being removed from an elderly person’s account, we would usually require the funds to be reinstated back in to that account.
“We encourage banks to be vigilant and victims who suspect financial elder abuse to call us on 1800 367 287 to discuss their issue with one of our staff,” he added.
The FOS Approach also contains case studies to demonstrate the approach that FOS would take in any dispute.
Virginia Wallace, 03 9613 7470 | [email protected]