ELDER ABUSE: Financial services employees are being encouraged to trust their instincts when it comes to recognising financial elder abuse.
ELDER ABUSE: Financial services employees are being encouraged to trust their instincts when it comes to recognising financial elder abuse. YinYang

Finance staff asked to help prevent elder abuse

FINANCIAL services staff are being reminded of the critical role they can play in helping identify financial elder abuse among their customers.

Australia's Financial Ombudsman Service lead ombudsman Philip Field said FOS has updated its 10-year-old working paper and last week released a new FOS Approach to financial elder abuse ahead of tomorrow's banking sector meetings on the draft of the new Code of Banking Practice which includes provisions for elder abuse.

"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," Mr Field said.

"This abuse can involve the misuse of or theft from a bank account or other financial services product."

The FOS guide stipulates that FSP staff have a duty of care to exercise reasonable care and skill in carrying out transactions for its customer.

"Financial services employees need to be encouraged to trust their instincts when it comes to recognising this form of abuse," Mr Field said.

Red flags

"There are sometimes warning signs, which we call red flags, that might alert a financial services provider that something untoward might be going on," Mr Field said.

"Where those warning signs appear, then they really should try and engage a customer in a conversation not an interrogation, perhaps alone if they are accompanied by someone else, just to try and make sure that what is going on is a genuine transaction.

"That's not always easy. Customers might tell a young bank teller 'to mind their own business' and even though they think something untoward is going on, it might be difficult to penetrate that. I think they should always try and keep some record of the conversations going on."

Will the power of attorney national register help?

The recent report out of the Australian Law Reform Commission included in its 43 recommendations that banks and financial institutions protect vulnerable customers from abuse and a national register of Power of Attorney holders be created.

"The problem for banks is identifying if the person who has the Power of Attorney is doing the right thing with it or not," Mr Field said. "When that happens in an online environment, it's very difficult for banks to supervise the way money is being spent.

"The national register is a good thing, but I don't know if it is going to change some of the practical problems around how the power is being used on a day-to-day basis. It would certainly give greater comfort if it was known there was a national register and the staff knew they were dealing with an appropriately authorised person."

However, once a registered person is dealing with day-to-day transactions, Mr Field points out it won't deal with how that person acts and if they are carrying out financial elder abuse.

Recent dispute

Mr Field recounted a recent scam dispute which involved a man of about 70 who had received a phone call from someone purporting to be from the police who declared the man's money wasn't safe at the bank and all of it should be withdrawn and sent to England, and because the bank wasn't safe, when the bank asked questions the man was advised to not tell the bank staff anything.

"This person had banked at the same branch for 30 years and hadn't made an international transaction, and so they (the bank staff) did ask him what the transfer was for," Mr Field sad.

"He said it was for a relative and that wasn't entirely convincing. Then a week later he came back on and sent more money; this time to buy a house, which was even less convincing. Because he was told not to say anything to the bank, it would have been difficult to get the information from him."

Luckily for the gentleman, a complaint was lodged with FOS and his money, about $400,000 of it, returned to him.

What to do if abuse is suspected

If it's a bank account issue, then Mr Field recommends a customer talk firstly to their bank staff or the customer advocate office.

If there isn't a resolution to a person's concern, then the customer can lodge a dispute with the FOS by ringing 1800 367 287 or through the website, www.fos.org.au.

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