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Elder financial abuse protections on legislative radar

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(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania’s aging population means more residents will be at risk of elder abuse.

That’s why lawmakers want to rework some rules to make it easier for banks to flag suspicious activity and alert law enforcement or trusted loved ones.

Rep. Joe Hogan, R-Penndel, introduced House Bill 2064 to allow financial institutions to report and disclose some records to law enforcement and temporarily delay suspicious transactions that could be scams or financial exploitation.

“This is a problem everywhere and I think states now are only starting to realize there’s things they could be doing better,” Hogan said. “Pennsylvania’s moving in the right direction and we’re looking at other ways to protect people.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging provides resources for the public to report elder abuse and encourages older adults not to give out personal financial information.

“The legislation will also authorize the sharing of information and records between financial institutions, fiduciaries, and area agencies on aging,” Hogan noted in a legislative memo. “Like other voluntary reporters to protective services, financial institutions and fiduciaries would be immune from civil or criminal liability when exercising their discretion to report, share records, provide information to area agencies on aging, and temporarily delay financial transactions.”

Fraud has been growing nationally. The National Council on Aging reported almost 90,000 fraud complaints in 2022 totaling more than $3 billion in losses. Pennsylvania legislators routinely warn the public of financial scams in their weekly newsletters

Hogan recalled a field hearing in March with bank officials in Bucks County who noted they deal with tens of thousands of dollars lost due to scams every week.

“That’s one county, that’s one bank; you can extrapolate it out to see that it’s a huge problem right now,” he said.

Scams and fraud range from government impersonations, robocalls, sweepstakes scams and other forms. Hogan also mentioned high-pressure scams such as fraudsters impersonating a grandchild who needs help in a foreign country, or romantic scams in which someone preys on a lonely widower.

“The major takeaway is, if you slow down, ask some questions, and if you’re being pressured to move very quickly and they’re asking for money, it’s probably a scam,” Hogan said.

Scams are ever-evolving, but legislators believe there are ways to limit their harm.

“From a legislative standpoint, I think it’s about adding guardrails,” Hogan said. “We can be proactive on the education side of things.”

Hogan has hosted “scam jams” to teach the public about common scams and sketchy tactics, and federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offer resources about the financial threats to older Americans.

“People always fall for these types of scams, unfortunately — that’s been the case since the beginning of time,” Hogan said. “There are people that prey on others’ goodwill and good intentions, but I think we can identify opportunities to put the brakes on some of this stuff, and help people out.”